MLS Knockout Round: Atlanta To Pursue Record-Breaking Start
Atlanta United vs Columbus Crew Picks
If you're looking to bet on the crucial knockout round match between Atlanta and the Columbus Crew, look no further. Below are the head to head lines, selected from the best online sportsbooks, followed by our fearless prediction and our match preview - make sure you take a look at this so you can make an informed decision on Thursday night's game.
The Columbus Crew are in great form leading into this knockout match. They have plenty of playoffs experience and this could be vital against a team that are making their first ever appearance in the Major League Soccer postseason.
The biggest issue for the Crew will be their poor away record - they have won just four matches in the regular season outside of Ohio, and fell at the home against all of the playoff teams.
Meanwhile the Atlanta train is gaining momentum all the time.
Emphatic going forward, solid at the back and at home to the biggest-ever crowd in the MLS, they shouldn't have any problems getting over the line in this match. Expect to see goals from both sides, however Atlanta should see this out in regulation time and progress to the next round.
Pick: Atlanta United (-141) at Sports Interaction
Atlanta United vs Columbus Crew Preview
It's been an incredible season for these two Eastern Conference teams in 2017 who have perhaps exceeded their own expectations as much as those of the betting community. Neither side was tipped to make the playoffs prior to the commencement of the season, so it really is amazing that we are talking about a knockout round clash between the two teams.
Atlanta have just completed their first ever season in the MLS, so to make the playoffs on their first attempt is an excellent achievement. But they haven't just made it to the playoffs... They have clinched a record-breaking season finishing the campaign as the most successful expansion side in history, and as the first team to make the playoffs in their inaugural season since 2009.
Then there is their stadium. They have broken the attendance record for a regular season match twice during 2017, with their most recent match against Supporter's Shield winners Toronto FC played in front a whopping 71,847 supporters.
In the process, they smashed the previous total attendance record for an entire season (752,199 by Seattle in 2015), reaching the amazing figure of 819,404 tickets sold for 2017.
It is perhaps the style of their play that has brought the fans to Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Atlanta notched up 70 goals in their opening campaign, more than two goals per game, and scored nearly three per game at home - 48 goals in total. Gerardo Martino's men have certainly not held back in their first crack at the MLS.
Another team that has a fearless playing style is, of course, the Columbus Crew, who under Gregg Berhalter have impressed this year. Finishing second-last in the 2016 Eastern Conference, few believed that the side could turn things around so dramatically in 2017.
That is exactly what has happened, with the Crew improving on last year's points total by 18 and winning twice as many games compared to last season.
Columbus' 2017 campaign started off much like the 2016 one ended - inconsistency plagued the Ohio side and they were staring down the barrel of a second-consecutive season without playoff football after they had come so close to winning the MLS Cup in 2015.
Something finally clicked after their early August defeat to the San Jose Earthquakes, and since then the side has gone ten straight without a loss.
The Crew certainly have the momentum on their side going into this clash, however, it must be noted that their recent run of matches did not include tough fixtures against Eastern Conference flyers Toronto FC, New York City or Atlanta, nor did they come up against the likes of Seattle or Portland. However belief is a funny thing, and the team will be full of it when they travel to the Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Thursday.
So with two teams set to go all in for this one-off elimination fixture, who is set to come out on top? Let's take a look at the key statistics for both sides, followed by their head to head record in order to settle the score and pick a winner.
As mentioned above it has been a stellar season for the newcomers, who were second only to Toronto FC in terms of goals scored. Of their 70 goals scored, Josef Martinez managed to score 19, while Miguel Almiron and Yamil Asad managed 14 and 13 assists respectively.
Hector Villalba also contributed with 13 goals and 11 assists, and with all four expected to take the pitch on Thursday night, you should expect to see plenty of action in the attacking third.
They were also solid defensively, conceding just 40 goals, which makes them fourth best in the league behind a miserly Sporting KC, Seattle and Toronto.
Interestingly, they were almost as strong defensively away from Mercedes-Benz as they were at home; they conceded 19 goals in their 17 home fixtures and 21 on the road. This level of consistency will be vital should they progress to the two-legged conference semi final.
Columbus have managed six wins and four draws from their last ten starts; an impressive record, but one that does not hide the inconsistencies experienced throughout the season, particularly away from home. The Crew won just four matches outside of Ohio in 2017 snd suffered nine defeats, on their way to a -13 goal differential from their 17 road matches.
All four of their away victories came against clubs that did not make the playoffs.
Conversely, their home record was excellent with twelve wins and just two losses putting them on par with the top playoff teams. The Crew managed to score 34 of their 53 goals at Mapfre Stadium, however their top striker, Ola Kamara, only scored ten of his eighteen goals at home.
Without his eight goals on the road, the side would have struggled to finish where they have, and his goal threat will be crucial to the success of Columbus on Thursday.
Head to Head Record
Atlanta and Columbus have only met twice in history, with the MLS debutants winning on both occasions. The pair first came up against each other in Atlanta in June, when Villalba, Almiron and Martinez all got on the scoresheet in a 3-1 victory. Their return fixture came just two weeks later, and it was Villalba who scored a double as the Crew were defeated 2-0 at home.
The signs all point to an Atlanta victory. They have the superior head to head record, an emphatic goal scoring record at their home stadium and are coming up against a team that has been poor on the road this season. With a practically full-strength side it is going to be tough to see Columbus winning this one. If so, the Crew will be rewarded with a home and away semi-final against Toronto FC. If Atlanta progress as expected, they will come up against New York City FC.
How do you think the game will pan out?
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