Columbus Crew dismantled Atlanta United 4-2 at Lower.com Field to punch their ticket to the Eastern Conference semifinals in the MLS Cup playoffs.
When two of the leading attacking teams in MLS meet up, there was bound to be high-scoring moments. Columbus ground out a 2-0 result in game one, before Atlanta equalized the series with a 4-2 victory in game two for a combined 12 goals in two games.
But the Crew returned stronger for game three, returning the favor at home by winning with the exact same scoreline to inch closer to bringing home MLS Cup.
A pair of long-range efforts from Darlington Nagbe and Malte Amundsen put the Crew up 2-0 inside 20 minutes before Alexandru Matan added a third near halftime. Giorgos Giakoumakis pulled one back for Atlanta right before the intermission, but Diego Rossi joined in on the scoring just two minutes after the restart to put his team in front with a commanding 4-1 lead.
Xande Silva found the back of the net in 50th minute, which was somehow the last goal scored in the contest with roughly 40 minutes remaining in regulation, but Atlanta were unable to build off of it.
"Like I told you, every game it's not the same picture," Crew boss Wilfried Nancy said after the game.
"This is a new story. We started from zero because it was the third game. I really enjoyed the week that we had. We were able to find ways with the staff and the players to find the balance between, 'Ok, we lost the game, but at the same time we move forward because we know what we can do.'"
Nancy praised his team's efficiency with the ball, as they essentially did more with less, scoring four goals despite having 47% possession.
"When we had the ball, we utilized the ball in a good way. We were able to speed up the play when it was open. We were able to control the action when we had to do it. I really enjoyed [seeing] my team with this kind of versatility ... When we had the ball, we were able to do good things and we were able to play direct. When I mean direct is two or three passes or to keep the ball and to manipulate them to speed up the play."
The former CF Montreal head coach explained that he noticed a sharp contrast in how his team handled pressure in games one and three when compared to game two at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
"... The first game and this game, we were brave. For me, this is a big difference. Again, I like to tell my team that we fear no one but we respect everyone. For me, this is really important that they stick to that. Today, this is what we did. We were really good to be front foot. We provoked the mistake, and after that with the ball, we were more clean. We could have scored more goals obviously. Yeah, it was a really, really good game. Why I'm really proud of my players is because it was a do-or-die game."
The Crew look like serious contenders for MLS Cup, but they'll now be tasked with handling business on the road, starting with a November 25 clash with Orlando City at Exploria Field in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
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