Atlanta United host Columbus Crew on Saturday aiming to build on a morale-boosting point from Rob Valentino’s first match in interim charge.
The Five Stripes promoted former assistant coach Valentino following the sacking of Gabriel Heinze earlier this week.
Valentino was unable to end Atlanta’s winless run, which now spans a club-record nine games, but encouragement can be taken from the way his side recovered to draw 1-1 with FC Cincinnati.
A quick turnaround in games, with the Crew visiting the Mercedes-Benz Stadium just three days on from that Cincinnati clash, provides Valentino with another chance to add points to the board.
“These things don’t happen overnight and performances like the one against Cincinnati are building blocks from what they’ve done before,” Valentino said.
“I try to continue on some of the things they’ve done that I feel like I can add as a coach. But I’m also a different coach. I will coach in different ways because it’s just the way it goes.
“I feel like they’ve done the club proud and done the city proud. I’m looking forward to coming home on Saturday.”
While Atlanta were battling to a draw against Cincinnati, Columbus played out a stalemate against Nashville SC in a rematch of the 2020 MLS Cup Eastern Conference semi-finals.
The Crew created numerous chances but could not find a way through, leaving head coach Caleb Porter disappointed despite going a fifth game without defeat.
“It’s good to leave a game where we don’t lose and where we’re disappointed,” Porter said.
“We have to keep improving, and for me, a draw at home is a disappointment. We need three points – I don’t care who we’re playing.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Atlanta United – Ronald Hernandez
Hernandez and Jackson Conway were handed their first starts of the season in Valentino’s first game. The former more than justified his selection by getting off the mark with his first goal for Atlanta to earn his side a point.
The four tackles won by the left-back was a game-high against Cincinnati and no Atlanta player bettered his three clearances in what was an impressive all-round display.
Columbus Crew – Lucas Zelarayan
Zelarayan had a game-high six shots in the goalless draw with Nashville, yet incredibly each of those attempts were blocked. He also played three key passes, a tally bettered by only two other players on the pitch.
The attacking midfielder remains the Crew’s biggest attacking threat, having been involved in all four of his side’s goals on their travels in the 2021 season – three goals of his own and one assist.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– Atlanta won the first four regular-season matches against the Crew, but Columbus have won the four since.
-The Crew have outscored Atlanta 8-2 in the last four meetings after the Five Stripes had outscored Columbus 10-2 in the first four meetings in the regular season.
– United are winless in nine straight matches following a 1-1 draw with Cincinnati on Wednesday (D6 L3), the longest winless run in the team’s MLS history.
– Columbus have drawn four of their last five matches (W1) after playing out four draws in their previous 25 matches (including play-offs) dating back to last September.
– Hernandez scored Atlanta’s lone goal against Cincinnati on Wednesday, the first goal from open play scored by the Five Stripes since May 29.