D.C. United’s hex over Atlanta United finally came to an end on Sunday afternoon, as the Five Stripes found little resistance in a 3-1 victory. Josef Martinez gave Atlanta the first half lead, and then a two minute salvo from Miguel Almiron and Hector Villalba put the game out of reach for the Black-and-Red. Darren Mattocks scored late on from a feed from Yamil Asad, but that proved to be nothing more than a consolation goal for D.C.
Last year, D.C. defeated their United counterparts three times in three matchups. It was going to be tough for United to repeat that this year, but in their second away game in the away heavy schedule of the first half of the season, the Black-and-Red couldn’t mount much of an opposition.
A week after conceding a late equalizer against 10-man Orlando City, Head Coach Ben Olsen opted for the same starting 11 against the Five Stripes. The only change to the game day squad was Luciano Acosta replacing Bruno Miranda on the bench. Acosta was suspended for the season opener after being sent off in the season finale last year.
The signs that United might be in for a long day came early, as Julian Gressel nearly opened the scoring in the 8th minute. A bad turnover in midfield got Atlanta headed in the right direction, and Miguel Almiron fed Gressel on the right. Gressel’s shot was goal-bound, but keeper David Ousted was able to palm the shot over for a corner.
In the 16th minute, the roles were reversed as Gressel turned creator for Almiron. Hector Villalba was able to get Gressel free down the right hand side, allowing the second year player to burst into space. His pass to the middle found a wide open Almiron, who got the ball onto his left foot, but curled an effort wide of a diving Ousted.
Martinez was denied by a good Ousted save in the 21st minute, just minutes before he opened his 2018 account in the 24th minute. With United pushing forward looking to create something, anything on the offensive end, they couldn’t keep hold of possession. And Darlington Nagbe punished that by breaking United’s lines at the midfield stripe. His pass sent Villalba streaking down the right hand flank, and Villalba’s cross went through Steve Birnbaum’s legs, and past Frederic Brillant, where Martinez stabbed home.
Atlanta’s chances dried up for much of the rest of the half, but that didn’t equate for any success for D.C. at the other end. United were almost shut out in the first half for shots, that is. But with a late corner, a good delivery from Yamil Asad forced Brad Guzan to play the ball out for another corner. The second corner in found Nick DeLeon, but the defender’s header was well off the mark, with the final touch of the first half.
United had a better start to the second half, earning a couple of free kicks early on, though never troubling Brad Guzan in goal. In fact, United didn’t get there second shot until the 59th minute, when Mattocks got free on the right hand flank, but fired well over.
The Black-and-Red had stymied Atlanta for most of the second half, but Ousted had to race off his line to get to a cross before Martinez in the 65th minute. The ball fell kindly to Almiron in the box, but his effort was forced wide by a defensive recovery.
But then a two minute outburst from Atlanta sealed what was an inevitable result on the day. Almiron made it two in the 73rd minute, after Atlanta broke United’s attempt at forcing a turnover in a bad spot. Almiron played the ball out wide, and then received a feed from Gressel at the top of the box. No one was close enough to close Almiron down, allowing him to blast a shot into the top corner for the 2-0 lead.
Almiron then turned provider two minutes later, assisting on Villalba’s first goal of the season. Almiron played a short corner to Greg Garza, and then quickly received the ball back. Almiron’s cross towards the near post was met by Villalba, who looped a header towards the back post, beating an outstretched Ousted.
United’s goal late on had little impact on the game, when Mattocks scored in the 86th minute. A pass from Asad took a slight deflection off of a defender, which redirected the ball into the path of Mattocks, who had streaked past the backline. With just Guzan to beat, Mattocks blasted the ball home, for his first goal with his new club.
Mattocks had a chance to make it two late on from a nice cross from Oniel Fisher, but Mattocks’ one-timed close range effort was pushed wide, with a defender closely marking him.
United, with one point from their first two games, kick off their ‘home’ schedule next weekend, hosting the Houston Dynamo at the Maryland SoccerPlex on Saturday.