D.C. United is down south for a crucial game in the suddenly tight Eastern Conference standings as they take on Atlanta United. MLS’s original United have been in a playoff spot for some time now, but while they’ve closed the distance on the top sides — a win could take them into the top four — Atlanta has closed the distance as well, and in fact is just one point behind the Black-and-Red.
With United unbeaten in three games and Atlanta having won six of seven, this game promises to be a good one.
Key player: Russell Canouse
Gonzalo Pineda spoke like a lifelong central midfielder in previewing this game, saying that the team that wins that region will control the game. With United on the road on a fast turf surface and facing a team whose top attacking options all cost more than any DCU player ever has, he’s probably not wrong.
The Black-and-Red’s ability to be disruptive — whether that’s actual pressure or blocking off passing lanes — is essential. No one’s going to be a bigger factor in that department than Canouse, whose play on both sides of the ball hasn’t gotten much talk this year. United has to be too difficult to play through up the middle for Atlanta to try it much; if they’re predictable enough that it’s just wingbacks progressing play, D.C.’s on course for a good result.
Location: Mercedes Benz Stadium (Atlanta, GA)
Kickoff time: 3:30pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (343) - Bill Hamid; Andy Najar, Steven Birnbaum, Donovan Pines; Julian Gressel, Russell Canouse, Junior Moreno, Kevin Paredes; Paul Arriola, Ola Kamara, Edison Flores
Bench: Jon Kempin, Frédéric Brilliant, Tony Alfaro, Joseph Mora, Felipe Martins, Moses Nyeman, Drew Skundrich, Yordy Reyna, Ramón Ábila
United’s injury report is down to four players: Brendan Hines-Ike, Adrien Perez, and Chris Odoi-Atsem remain out, while Nigel Robertha is once again listed as questionable. With the substitutions we saw on Wednesday and Hernán Losada saying that the turf would not hold Najar back for this one, don’t expect many changes.
The ankle knock Reyna picked up late against Chicago was deemed nothing too problematic, but it might be enough to see he and Flores exchange spots. There’s also a chance that United might set up in a 352, which probably means a spot for Skundrich or Nyeman in central midfield over Flores or Arriola, but realistically it’s a chance for United to play the closest thing to their best on-paper lineup we’ve seen all year.
Projected Atlanta starting 11: (532) - Brad Guzan; Brooks Lennon, George Campbell, Alan Franco, Anton Walkes, George Bello; Ezequiel Barco, Santiago Sosa, Marcelino Moreno; Luiz Araújo, Josef Martínez
The big Atlanta news is at the back, where Miles Robinson has been given time off and won’t be available today:
Gonzalo Pineda: "I gave Miles a break. We felt that he had a heavy load with the national team."— Felipe Cárdenas (@FelipeCar) September 17, 2021
Miles Robinson will miss tomorrow's game vs DC United. He was a step slow and looked fatigued against a bad Cincinnati team. ATLUTD's play @ Philadelphia on 9/25.
If Pineda wants to continue with the 532, Campbell is the obvious replacement, but it’s also possible that they shift into a 4231, with Matheus Rossetto probably coming in alongside Sosa in central midfield and Araújo and Barco playing on either side of Moreno.
One aspect at play here: Atlanta didn’t use their hefty win to rest legs as much as United did, so there are some tired starters (Barco and Moreno in particular) with no clear alternate. Jürgen Damm could step in for Lennon if Pineda plays with five or three in the back, but the big-money quartet are all very likely going to start and play most of the game no matter what.
Referee: Joseph Dickerson
Available TV: Univision, TUDN
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
What do we have to say about it?: Despite the extremely short turnaround, we recorded a new Filibuster with J. Sam Jones as our guest that talks about what we can expect in this game.
What are you drinking?: Tangerine seltzer during the game, Sam Adams Oktoberfest once the press conference wraps up.
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion. Vamos true United!