D.C. United has the proudest history in the league, but today they take on an Atlanta United side that is making history of a different sort. Despite being an expansion team, ATLUTD has immediately established themselves as a big-spending, high-profile club that expects big things right away. Normally a team coming off of three straight playoff seasons would be heavily favored against an expansion side, but today in Georgia the injury-riddled Black-and-Red are considered heavy underdogs. That said, there’s no team in MLS more likely to relish that role than Ben Olsen’s DCU.
Key player: Ian Harkes
Coming off of possibly his best game as a pro, Harkes looks like he’s right on the verge of really breaking out and going from “solid MLS rookie starter” to “a big deal.” Today will be the biggest test of his young career, though, because of the way Atlanta lines up. They use their Paraguayan star midfielder Miguel Almiron left of center in their midfield trio, just like Ben Olsen lines Luciano Acosta up left of center with the Black-and-Red.
The result? More than anyone else, Harkes will see the most of Atlanta’s star player. Almiron has drawn raves for his attacking play for obvious reasons, but what goes underappreciated is that he’s one of the best attacking players on the defensive side of the ball in all of MLS. Almiron’s ability to force turnovers and take up smart positions disrupts opposing attacks, of course, but it also sparks ATL’s deadly transition game.
If this becomes a game defined by transition play and a high tempo, United is in deep, deep trouble. It will take a full team effort to make sure that doesn’t happen, but no one will have a more challenging job on that front than Harkes.
Location: Bobby Dodd Stadium (Atlanta, GA)
Kickoff time: 3:00pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (4141) - Bill Hamid; Sean Franklin, Kofi Opare, Bobby Boswell, Taylor Kemp; Jared Jeffrey; Lloyd Sam, Ian Harkes, Luciano Acosta, Lamar Neagle; Sebastien Le Toux
Bench: Travis Worra, Jalen Robinson, Maxim Tissot, Marcelo Sarvas, Julian Buescher, Jose Ortiz, Patrick Mullins
I want to tell you that Mullins will start straight away, but that seems optimistic after over a month out. Given that Le Toux scored last week, I think he’ll get 60 minutes up front before Mullins comes in (and most likely, Le Toux will stay on the field, just moving to a position on the wing).
Beyond that, this is pretty much everyone that is fit and available.
Projected Atlanta United starting 11: (433) - Alec Kann; Tyrone Mears, Michael Parkhurst, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Greg Garza; Carlos Carmona, Jeff Larentowicz, Miguel Almiron; Hector Villalba, Kenwyne Jones, Yamil Asad
Atlanta has a great starting attack, but there’s no depth here. With Josef Martinez and Jacob Peterson injured and Andrew Carleton away with the US under-17s, Tata Martino’s options off the bench are Julian Gressel (who at this point is more of an effective worker bee than a real attacking threat in MLS) and 18 year old striker Brandon Vazquez. If United can just hang close in this game, they might be able to steal a late result (as the Red Bulls did back in early March with two late goals).
Referee: sigh...it’s Jair Marrufo. Buckle up, fam.
Available TV: Fox Sports 1 (English), Fox Deportes (Spanish)
Available streaming: Fox Sports Go, Fox Soccer 2Go
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
What are you drinking?: Yesterday I saw a 30 minute drive become a 60 minute drive during the hottest part of the day, then saw the Spirit lose, then saw the Caps lose big, then came home to a sudden internet outage. This was written at a Denny’s that is mercifully open 24 hours. Oh, and I suspect that this game isn’t going to go well for our preferred United, so...gin. Probably a gin rickey during the game, then a couple more afterward. It’s been that kind of week.
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