D.C. United faces Atlanta United today at Audi Field, and the game comes at a strange moment. The Black-and-Red have lost two straight games despite feeling like their performances deserved more, and have had to stew on that for two weeks due to the international window. They face Atlanta (a team coming off of an odd result themselves) tonight, and then sit idle for another week before resuming the normal pattern of the season.
It’s the kind of game that might dictate the mood around the club for a good bit, making this game a deceptively important one despite coming so early in the season.
Key player, er, players: Wingbacks
United’s leaders in key passes are Julian Gressel (8) and Brad Smith (7). Those totals are, for wingbacks around MLS, pretty good, but a) no one else has more than 3, and b) key passes simply mean a pass resulting in a shot, rather than indicating how dangerous the shot (or the pass) was.
The Black-and-Red haven’t been particularly good at getting Gressel and Smith into truly dangerous positions. Teams are keying in on Gressel, which is why despite taking set pieces, his total is only one ahead of Smith. On the other side, Smith’s choices in the final third have seen him rush to serve the ball in moments where driving to the endline or into the box (where your chances of generating a big opportunity grow dramatically) would have been the better choice.
If United is going to work their way through the rather pragmatic approach Atlanta has tended to take on the road under Gonzalo Pineda, they’ve got to get their wingbacks into better positions, and get better outcomes when they do.
Location: Audi Field (Washington, DC)
Kickoff time: 7:30pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (343) - Bill Hamid; Andy Najar, Brendan Hines-Ike, Steven Birnbaum; Julian Gressel, Russell Canouse, Sofiane Djeffal, Brad Smith; Edison Flores, Ola Kamara, Griffin Yow
Bench: Jon Kempin, Donovan Pines, Tony Alfaro, Gaoussou Samaké, Moses Nyeman, Chris Durkin, Drew Skundrich, Nigel Robertha, Michael Estrada
Here’s the injury report:
We also know that Taxi Fountas doesn’t have his visa yet, and that Jeremy Garay, Jacob Greene, Hayden Sargis, and Kimarni Smith will be with Loudoun today.
That leaves 22 players for 20 spots. We suspect Durkin will be available but, having only just arrived, is probably not yet starting in a system he’s only had a few days to learn. Beyond that, no real surprises here, though there are obviously many options to be the third player up front with Flores and Kamara. We’re going with Yow, but it could easily be Robertha (who started in United’s last game) or Estrada, who is back after missing a game for family reasons.
Projected Atlanta starting 11: (4231) - Brad Guzan; Ronald Hernández, Alan Franco, George Campbell, Andrew Gutman; Santiago Sosa, Osvaldo Alonso; Brooks Lennon, Marcelino Moreno, Thiago Almada; Josef Martínez
Pineda is without Luiz Araújo and Dom Dwyer, among others, and may have some concerns with his internationals (especially Miles Robinson, who played 270 minutes for the USMNT in their three qualifiers in this window). On the other hand, players like Almada and Sosa are closer to fully fit than they were before the break, so there’s a lot going on here.
In the end, we’re mostly cribbing from Dirty South Soccer’s prediction, save for one important note: our guess is that Pineda makes the more conservative choice of Hernández at right back and Lennon on the right wing, just based on how I figure he’ll respond to United tending to throw 8-9 players forward when they attack.
Two dynamics to watch: first, keep an eye on whether it’s Moreno centrally and Almada on the left, or vice versa. Second, Atlanta has been getting its points based on goals and assists off the bench, and they tend to leave it very, very late. Someone like Jake Mulraney could be a very tricky game-changer in the closing stages.
Referee: Armando Villarreal
Available TV: NBC Sports Washington, TeleXitos
Feel free to check our our DCU how to watch guide to figure out what your best option is.
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
What do we have to say about it?: Filibuster’s most recent episode previews this very game! Can you believe it?
What are you drinking?: The forecast calls for bottles of press box water in the stadium. I’ll probably grab some coffee on my drive in (hot or cold TBD).
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