Columbus advance to Eastern Conference Semifinals
Columbus Crew ambushed Atlanta United in the first 20 minutes with two goals from outside the box on their way to a 4-2, series-clinching win. They’ll head to Florida on Nov. 25 for an Estern Conference Semifinal matchup with Orlando City SC. Kickoff is set for 5:30 pm ET.
Semifinals schedule announced
The Eastern Conference Semifinals will be played on Saturday, Nov. 25, while the Western Conference Semifinals will be played on Sunday, Nov. 26. When matches return following the FIFA international break, a single-elimination setup will return too. Take a look at the full schedule here.
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What happened?: Darlington Nagbe and Malte Amundsen sent home two long-range shots inside of the first 20 minutes. From there, Columbus added another goal and another to keep Atlanta at arms length the rest of the way. It was spectacular, then it was professional. The Crew are the real deal and will head to Orlando with plenty of confidence. They’re two wins away from hosting their second MLS Cup in four years.
So, did we learn anything?: Yesterday morning I wrote about how tactical and personnel adjustments might make the difference in this one. How one manager flinching and trying to gain an upper hand by finding a way to surprise the other side in the fourth game between the two in a little over a month might be detrimental. That surprise came when Wilfried Nancy swapped Julian Gressel for Mo Farsi in the Crew’s starting XI. And as I prepared myself to spend this morning digging into the tactical nuances of this move and how it either helped or hurt Columbus and how there are competing schools of thought on personnel versus tactics and the influence of managers in general and why decisions that impact how space is occupied and manipulated are the intangible strings pulling on the sport like a marionette at all times, the universe provided a gentle reminder: SHUT UP, NERD. SIT BACK AND WATCH THESE BANGERS.
Goals change games, y’all. Yeah, there’s maybe a larger discussion about Atlanta misplaying passes out of the back and their tendency to not close down players on the ball in the final third, but the fact of the matter is you had a 0.04 xG chance and a 0.06 xG chance go in during the first 17 minutes of a game and that was that. The game state changed and Atlanta needed a miracle.
In an elimination game, “ball go in” or “ball didn’t go in” is all that matters. On paper, the xG for this one ended at 1.8 to 1.5 xG in favor of Columbus. That’s not quite the beatdown it might have seemed like. But, ya know, “ball go in” for the Crew.
That’s not to discredit them or anything. They were fantastic in both home games, and they did everything they needed to when they took that 2-0 lead to see out the win. It’s more just to remind everyone that winning in the playoffs is really, really hard. With the single-elimination Semifinals on the way, I think we needed that reminder. Sometimes you get the breaks, and sometimes you don’t.
The larger narrative here, though, is the Crew are ready to make a sincere push for MLS Cup and Atlanta United are still a few pieces away. We’ll take some time to dig into it later, but there are clear weak links in the chain for Atlanta that will have to be strengthened during the offseason by Garth Lagerwey and company.
That’s along with re-solidifying stronger points in the chain that will would be broken if Miles Robinson and Thiago Almada leave. It’s going to be another busy offseason in Atlanta. But they’re closer to turning “Atlanta United is back!” from a meme to reality than they have been in a long, long time. The Five Stripes have a ton of upside heading into 2024.
The Crew have a ton of upside right now, though. The only (and I mean only) concern for them is they may have to go on the road twice to host MLS Cup. That’s tough for even the best MLS teams. We saw a totally different Crew side in Atlanta during this series. They’ll have to figure out what went wrong there by the time they get to Orlando. And then they’ll have to make sure it doesn’t return if we get a Hell Is Real Eastern Conference Final. Which, holy smokes, I just realized we could get a Hell Is Real Eastern Conference Final. We live on a great timeline sometimes.
Anyway, Columbus just tears you apart. I’m not sure there’s really an answer to it unless you’re the kind of team who can sit comfortably in front of their own 18. In a lot of ways, that made this a terrible matchup for Atlanta. It might make it a decent matchup for Orlando. Orlando isn’t a bunkering team by any stretch, but they are far more resilient and solid defensively. It will be fascinating to see who comes out on top there.
My gut tells me another three-game series might give a slight edge to the Crew, but the single-elimination format tilts things back in favor of Orlando. Then again, sometimes the ball goes in and sometimes it doesn’t. Maybe we shouldn’t worry so much about analysis right now.
Charlotte FC's Berchimas sends USA past South Korea at U-17 World Cup: Charlotte FC homegrown forward Nimfasha Berchimas showed his sky-high potential Sunday, scoring two goals and setting up another at the 2023 FIFA U-17 World Cup as the US began Group E play with a 3-1 win over South Korea.
- Columbus Crew are riding a series of highs and lows into the Conference Semifinals.
- Atlanta United had a fatal flaw exposed one more time during a "transitional season.”
- John Herdman is beginning to make changes at Toronto FC.
- Take a look at the updated MLS Cup 2023 hosting scenarios.
- Here are the MLS players who were called up during the November international window.
Good luck out there. Rewrite the script how you see fit.