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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The Columbus Crew have advanced to the next round of the MLS Cup Playoffs after winning a high-octane game three over Atlanta United 4-2 to clinch the first-round series victory.
The Crew will play Orlando City in the Eastern Conference semifinals as the playoffs switch back to a single-game format. Columbus, the three-seed in the East, will be on the road at No. 2 Orlando. The match will be played on Nov. 25 at 5:30 p.m.
Columbus had a euphoric first half where they scored three goals in the first 30 minutes, effectively ending the game and closing the series quickly. Atlanta could never recover after goals from Darlington Nagbe, Malte Amundsen, and Alex Matan in the first half followed by a Diego Rossi dagger in the second half.
The fifth match this season between Columbus and Atlanta was the first the Five Stripes had Thiago Almada available while on the road. Without Almada, Atlanta was outscored 8-1 in its two previous matches at Lower.com Field.
Columbus took the lead early in the 8th minute after a good press that forced an errant pass from the Atlanta defender Miles Robinson. That pass went straight to the captain Nagbe who set up a right-footed shot from just outside the box that went into the bottom corner.
With the stakes high, Nagbe’s goal opened the game up as Atlanta began to enhance its attack while down but left themselves open to concede again. Out of nowhere, Columbus’ Danish defender Amundsen had a crack from more than 25 yards out. His left-footed shot flew over Atlanta keeper Brad Guzan for a 16th-minute wonder goal to double the Crew’s lead.
Atlanta’s first shot on target came in the 31st minute off a quick counter. Saba Lobzhanidze sprinted down the right as striker Georgios Giakoumakis made his run into the box. Lobzhanidze’s cross found Giakoumakis whose first-time shot went right at the knees of Columbus goalie Patrick Schulte.
The dream first half continued for Columbus as a quick passing sequence in the 32nd minute near the box ended with a Matan power shot into the roof of the net. That 3-0 lead did not last long as Atlanta got its first goal just a minute later with a Giakoumakis tap-in to give the Five Stripes some life.
Atlanta had a few chances late in the first half to cut the deficit to one but they could not get that second goal. The energetic first half ended with the Crew leading 3-1.
That energy carried into the second half as Columbus scored its fourth goal of the game. Just two minutes into the second half, Matan played a tidy through ball to Rossi. The Uruguayan winger curled the ball off the post and in to make it 4-1 Crew.
Once again though, Atlanta scored right after a Crew goal as Xande Silva put it a cross from Brooks Lennon just two minutes after Rossi’s strike, making it a 4-2 game.
Despite a long gap without a goal, both teams kept the energy high and peppered the goal with plenty of shots. Atlanta keeper Brad Guzan was forced to make two massive saves on shots from Cucho Hernandez in the 71st minute.
Hope began to fade for Atlanta United as the clock wound down as the quick hole they got into was too deep to climb out of. The win extends Columbus’ home playoff winning streak to six straight, dating back to the team’s 2020 MLS Cup title run.
MLS Cup Playoffs bracket
Eastern Conference semifinals
1 FC Cincinnati vs. 4 Philadelphia Union (Nov. 25 – 8 p.m.)
2 Orlando City vs. 3 Columbus Crew (Nov. 25 – 5:30 p.m.)
Western Conference semifinals
4 Houston Dynamo vs. 8 Sporting Kansas City (Nov. 26 – 7 p.m.)
2 Seattle Sounders vs. 3 Los Angeles FC (Nov. 26 – 9:30 p.m.)