COLUMBUS, Ohio — MLS Cup MVP Cucho Hernández picked up where he left off last season, scoring 27 minutes into the match to spark the defending-champion Columbus Crew to a 1-0 victory over Atlanta United in an opener on Saturday.

Hernández was in the right place at the right time, redirecting a deflection by Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan — on a shot by Diego Rossi — into the net.

Patrick Schulte finished with three saves to earn the clean sheet for the Crew. Guzan stopped two shots for Atlanta United.

Thiago Almada, who led the league with 19 assists last season and finished third in the MVP voting, had a shot on goal for Atlanta United, as did Giorgos Giakoumakis and league newcomer Bartosz Slisz

Columbus improves to 10-7-4 all-time against Atlanta United.

The Crew begin their quest to become the fourth club in league history to win back-to-back titles and the first since the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2011-12.

Columbus beat Atlanta United 4-2 in the rubber-match of a three-game series on its way to the title last season. The Crew beat Los Angeles FC 2-1 in Columbus to win the Cup.

Crew manager Wilfried Nancy is trying to become the fourth head coach to take his team to the MLS Cup in each of his first two seasons and the first to turn it into two championships.

Darlington Nagby has won the MLS Cup four times, the last two with the Crew. Nagby and Aidan Morris are aiming to be the first Crew members to win three Cups. The Galaxy's Landon Donovan won a record six MLS Cups.

The Crew travel to play Minnesota United on March 2. Atlanta United returns to action on March 9 in a home opener against the New England Revolution.

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