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Short-handed Atlanta United puts hot start up against Crew

Mar 18, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta United defender Caleb Wiley (26) in action during the first half against the Portland Timbers at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta United looks to extend their season-opening unbeaten streak to five games but will do so without several of their top players.

The host Columbus Crew will not have much sympathy because they also will be short-handed on Saturday.

Due to the international break and injuries, some of the luster is off the first matchup of the season between Atlanta United (3-0-1, 10 points) and the Crew (1-2-1, 4 points).

Atlanta will be without MLS points leader Thiago Almada (four goals, four assists), who is away with Argentina. Also absent for the Five Stripes will be Derrick Etienne Jr. (Haiti), Miles Robinson (U.S.), Giorgos Giakoumakis (Greece), Ronald Hernandez (Venezuela), Luis Abram (Peru) and Machop Chol (South Sudan).

Atlanta coach Gonzalo Pineda says the challenge is to put the replacements in positions to succeed.

“We’re not changing the core of the team. I think that’s important,” Pineda said. “But also (important), is the clear understanding on the tactics and the roles. We’re big on the roles of the players. Everyone should have a role and everyone should understand the role on the field and from there just apply it. … They all should have a clear understanding of what they’re doing.”

Fortunately for Atlanta, 18-year-old Caleb Wiley (three goals, two assists) will be available.

Columbus will be without goalkeeper Eloy Room (Curacao), Milos Degenek (Australia) and Lucas Zelarayan (Armenia), who has scored two of the Crew’s five goals.

Also, striker Cucho Hernandez will miss a second straight match because of a knee injury and could be out several more weeks.

“The fact we have players away or injured, this is not an issue,” Crew coach Wilfried Nancy said. “The way I am as a person, I don’t like to complain. I like to move forward and the idea is to find solutions with our players.”

Still, he understands that getting a result against Atlanta won’t be easy.

“This is for me is one of the best teams in the league,” Nancy said. “They have really good players and also the way they play, I like that.”

— Field Level Media

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