Editorial- Group E play of the MLS is Back tournament is shaking out like most of us expected it to. Columbus Crew are on top, with RBNY and Atlanta not too far behind. Cincy is down at the bottom despite tied on points thanks to that -4 goal differential.
MLS is Back and so is Columbus
The Columbus Crew were down in 2019. After five seasons of management under Gregg Berhalter, the Crew were beginning to stagnate in 2018. A talented group, yes. But the issues in 2019 weren’t a result of Berhalter’s departure, nor were they to be faulted to Caleb Porter. Porter was marginally managing the Crew roster that Anthony Precourt and his team had left to die. Now, back in 2020 with a revamped vengeance, and even a local flare and passion, the Crew are alive and well as an MLS stalwart again.
They easily dispatched of FC Cincinnati in their first match, thanks to the brilliance of Lucas Zelerayan, and the quality finishing display from Gyasi Zardes. In total, Columbus was deadly. They were quick to snuff out any attacks that FCC mounted and was even quicker to strike with a dagger of a counter. It was clinical, and something most would’ve come to expect from a Caleb Porter coached team. They’re flying high and have the most complete talent of the group.
RBNY surprised Atlanta in their first match, scoring inside the first 10 minutes and hanging on to that 1-0 lead through the rest of the match. It was also a vintage RBNY showing. Doing the most they could without the ball, and taking advantage of the moments they did. Atlanta came out lazy and lethargic and RBNY punished them. However, they were lucky that multiple chances for Atlanta were either just wide, saved, or off the cross bar.
What happens in their match against Columbus doesn’t really affect much. They’ll still have the opportunity to beat FC Cincinnati for the second time in 2020. Expecting that result, you could easily see both them and Columbus sitting at 6 points or better through the end of the group. However, that picture is much more cloudy for Atlanta.
Atlanta and Cincinnati Match Key
While I don’t think it’s fair to entirely write off Cincinnati, it’s hard to see them getting out of the group. But, for the sake of fairness, their matchup on Thursday morning is incredibly crucial. A draw would likely mean the end of the road for both teams since they’d each have to face one of the Crew or Red Bulls to close out the group. 3 points gives them a shot at a wild card berth into the round of 16.
Atlanta did not establish much in terms of clear cut chances in the RBNY match. On just 14 shot attempts they mustered a 1.45 xG rating against the Red Bulls. The Red Bulls only took 6 shots and created a 1.24 xG rating. Atlanta needs to find a way to create clear cut chances. They were able to do so once they played an actual striker in Adam Jahn. Check out this chart from @JMooreQuakes, showing the rise in xG in the second half by Atlanta.
— JMoore Quakes (@JmooreQuakes) July 14, 2020
If they can do that, they have the quality to finish them off against a much lesser defense in Cincinnati. If they don’t, however, Cincinnati will be ready for the counter, and as history has shown, they might be able to nick a point or even three off Atlanta if the finishing goes wayward.
Remember, a draw for both teams is almost a guaranteed ticket home. A win not only gives the winner a chance to take a top 2 spot in the group, but it also gives them a good position for getting into the round of 16 as a wild card. Only 8 teams go home, and this is certainly not the group where you’d expect two to get cut. Sometimes, that’s the way the cookie crumbles.
FC Cincinnati and Atlanta United kick off at 9am EST on Thursday, July 16. Red Bulls versus Columbus Crew will follow that evening, with a 10:30 pm EST kick.