Atlanta United's Thiago Almada back for must-win match vs. Crew
Posted on: 07 Nov, 2023 at 02:55 PM
Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports
Atlanta United are hoping a not-so-secret weapon can keep their postseason hopes alive when they host the Columbus Crew on Tuesday in Match 2 of the first-round, best-of-three series.
The Crew, the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference, won the opener 2-0 at home on Nov. 1 on a brace by Cucho Hernandez while limiting Atlanta to one off-target shot.
Atlanta expects that to change with the return of Thiago Almada, a finalist for MLS MVP with 11 goals and 19 assists, after he missed the match in Columbus because of a red card in the regular-season finale against FC Cincinnati. Almada was named the 2023 MLS Young Player of the Year on Monday.
"We will have Thiago back, we'll be at (home), we'll be strong and we have to be on the front foot," Atlanta United coach Gonzalo Pineda said. "It's a life-or-death game, and we have to go all in."
The Crew played Atlanta to a 1-1 tie on Oct. 7, so they know what to expect from Almada.
"I think whenever you play a guy like that with talent, I mean, every team has it in the league, there's always a number 10 with various skill sets," Crew midfielder Aidan Morris said. "He's a good dribbler. We played in Atlanta and I thought we did really well with him. We'll stick to what we know how to do."
Atlanta, the sixth seed, must be wary of Hernandez, who has 12 goals in the past nine matches.
"It's very important to be in form at this moment for the team and for myself personally, having this confidence in the playoffs," Hernandez said through an interpreter. "But the work is not done yet. (Match 1) would count for nothing if we don't qualify for the next round. So right now, I am only thinking about Tuesday and how we have to get another result there."
Match 3, if necessary, would be in Columbus on Sunday.
The winner of this series advances to play either No. 2 Orlando City or No. 7 Nashville in the conference semifinals.
--Field Level Media