D.C. United, looking to build on slow but sure recent improvement under interim coach Chad Ashton, is on the road this afternoon against Atlanta United. The Black-and-Red broke a nine-game winless run last weekend, and they’ll want to show that their last two games were not just a temporary uptick in form. They’ll also be hoping to set the record straight against Atlanta, who came to Buzzard Point three weeks ago and handed United their worst loss of a season full of rough nights at the office.
Key players: United’s strikers
D.C. is playing better soccer of late, and they’re harder to defend. However, think about the actual goals they’ve scored since the coaching change: two from set pieces, two more created by fullbacks bombing forward, and a penalty kick. Erik Sorga won that penalty by shooting, and that’s the closest any forward has come to direct involvement on any of these goals. After that, you have go to Ola Kamara getting a touch quite early in the build-up to Chris Odoi-Atsem’s winner in Cincinnati last weekend.
Certainly no one can say the forwards are doing a bad job; they’ve been more active and involved overall lately, and their pressing work has been a big factor in United’s shift into a more interesting, less predictable team to watch. But eventually, you need your forwards to score, particularly if the formation remains 442. With Atlanta probably fielding their most dangerous lineup in weeks today, United’s front line probably needs to produce something more tangible if DCU is going to come home with three points.
Location: Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Atlanta, GA)
Kickoff time: 4:00pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (442) - Bill Hamid; Chris Odoi-Atsem, Frederic Brillant, Donovan Pines, Joseph Mora; Julian Gressel, Russell Canouse, Yamil Asad, Edison Flores; Erik Sorga, Ola Kamara
Bench: Chris Seitz, Axel Sjöberg, Oniel Fisher, Junior Moreno, Moses Nyeman, Kevin Paredes, Griffin Yow, Yordy Reyna, Gelmin Rivas
Let’s start with the biggest news: based on social media, Ashton’s statement that Hamid and Moreno were “looking good” has translated to at least Hamid traveling. We have no reason to believe Moreno was left out, and Reyna also posted on Instagram from the team’s flight south. Unless someone else is out for reasons that haven’t been announced yet, United actually had more healthy players to choose from than open spots on gameday.
It’ll be curious to see how Ashton approaches the relative luxury of having this many players healthy and available. Could Moreno or Nyeman start, with Asad moving over to the left (and Flores up front)? It could be that we see a 4231 or 433, which means one starting role for Kamara or Sorga. After all, part of the reason for United to play 442 of late has been having more healthy forwards than central midfielders.
However, that’s getting into speculation about making substantial changes to a team that finally won a game, so let’s assume the only changes are Hamid and Canouse coming back into the team.
Projected Atlanta starting 11: (4231) - Brad Guzan; Franco Escobar, Fernando Meza, Miles Robinson, George Bello; Jeff Larentowicz, Emerson Hyndman; Jurgen Damm, Marcelino Moreno, Ezequiel Barco; Jon Gallagher
It seems like Atlanta is rounding into full fitness, and they’ve incorporated new Designated Player Marcelino Moreno as a no. 10 (even though he’s probably actually a no. 8). Barco, after being mysteriously left out for long enough that it caused transfer rumors, is most likely back and able to start after overcoming a quad issue. If Stephen Glass would prefer not to start him, it’ll probably be Jake Mulraney on the left, though Gallagher could move over to the left if they want to bring in Adam Jahn up front instead.
Otherwise, this seems pretty straightforward. Josef Martinez is still out, and Cubo Torres is listed as out, but it appears to be a mistake. He played last week, there’s been no mention of a new injury, and he was available to speak to the media (which is usually not the case for players that won’t be playing).
Referee: Armando Villarreal is listed in the MLS game guide, though the last time we rolled the dice and trusted the game guide, a different referee showed up without explanation. So we’ll see!
Available TV: WJLA 24/7 News (D.C. region only)
Available streaming: If you live inside this blackout zone that United provided for us, you can stream the game on the team site. For everyone else, ESPN+ or FuboTV (subscribe via those links, & your friends at B&RU get some cash!).
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
What do we have to say about it?: We talked about how this game, believe it or not, does have playoff implications for the Black-and-Red.
What are you drinking?: I’m getting over my second-ever bout with acid reflux overnight Thursday, so I should probably take it easy. Nothing more bold than a Polar grapefruit seltzer, I’m afraid.
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