Atlanta United tries to stay in first with win over Crew

Atlanta United's grip on the Supporters' Shield will be tested this weekend when the surging Columbus Crew visit Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday.

United (14-4-6, 48 points) enters the weekend clinging to a one-point lead over each of the New York squads, the Red Bulls and NYCFC, in the Eastern Conference standings. The Five Stripes, who are on a five-game unbeaten run, haven't played since settling for a 2-2 draw with Toronto FC on Aug. 4.

The Crew (11-7-6, 39 points) have found a spark after an up-and-down start to the season. Columbus has won three straight, including a 1-0 shutout of the Houston Dynamo last Saturday.

"We know it's a tough team," Crew coach Greg Berhalter said. "We know we've had problems in the regular season playing against them and we know they have threats; (Miguel) Almiron and the counterattack, (Josef) Martinez -- the best goal scorer this league has seen over this period of time.

"They have a good defense, good wingers, and it's going to be a difficult game for us. We're gonna have a game plan in place to try to hurt them and to try to establish our game on them a little bit, but, again, we'll see what happens."

Martinez has been spectacular, leading MLS with a remarkable 26 goals. He had a brace in United's 2-0 road win over the Crew in mid-June. Almiron has been a spark plug, and United may soon get the services of dynamic Ezequiel Barco back.

Barco was not included on the active roster the past three games for what coach Tata Martino has described as disciplinary reasons. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Barco could play Sunday against the Crew.

Martino has been concerned about his team's recent struggles to close out games.

"We've lost seven points this season in the last five minutes or so of games -- Dallas, New England and today," Martino said. "We could close a game down if we score the third goal. One way to do it is to score. What some other teams do -- especially when they come here -- is once they're in a good, favorable result for them they slow the game down. ... I think that's part of why we've lost seven points. We could have 55 points right now."

Updated August 17, 2018