Atlanta United feels they have the momentum. The Columbus Crew will rely on their home-field advantage.
Something has to give when the third-seeded Crew host No. 6 Atlanta in the decisive match of their Eastern Conference first-round best-of-three series on Sunday.
Atlanta avoided elimination in Match 2 at home on Tuesday with a 4-2 victory following the Crew's 2-0 win in Columbus in the Nov. 1 opener.
"I think we got some momentum after scoring four goals on them, so hopefully we can continue that, continue to grow and if we do that, we will win," Atlanta defender Miles Robinson said.
Thiago Almada, the 2023 MLS Young Player of the Year (11 goals, league-high 19 assists) returned for the second match after sitting the first because of a red card in the regular-season finale. He scored the fourth goal, but the real damage was done by Giorgos Giakoumakis (17 goals in the regular season), who had a goal and two assists.
"We were aggressive, pressing hard and pressing together, which is great against a team that plays very well from the back," Atlanta coach Gonzalo Pineda said.
The Crew went 12-1-4 at home in league play this season and have an 18-1-8 record at home across all competitions since August 2022.
"We know that we're going to play at home, the fans are going to be behind us and it's going to be an emotional game," Columbus coach Wilfried Nancy said. "We know that, but at the same time, we love to play at home, but we know that it won't be easy. We're going to try to take advantage of that."
Atlanta will try to contain Cucho Hernandez, who has three goals in the series and 13 in his past 10 matches.
He's a big reason the Crew had the best home-goal differential (plus-27) in MLS during the regular season.
"At home, we know how to play," Crew defender Rudy Camacho said.
The winner advances to the conference semifinal knockout match at No. 2 Orlando City.
—Field Level Media