Sunday afternoon had all the hallmarks early on of another loss on the road for D.C. United. In their first-ever game against Atlanta United, United could have conceded on two different occasions in the opening three minutes. Bill Hamid made two fantastic saves, but even those didn’t wake the Black-and-Red up, and United fell behind in the 9th minute, thanks to a Kenwyne Jones header.
It could have been a long 90 minutes for United, who had only one point to show for their first three road games in 2017. Instead, much like last week’s draw against the New England Revolution, United responded before halftime, taking a lead into the break. But unlike last week, United were managed their lead during the second half, and ended up walking out of Bobby Dodd Stadium with all three points in a 3-1 win.
“We knew there was going to be a storm coming, with the way they play, and the talent they have,” head coach Ben Olsen said in his press conference after the game.
Despite a rocky start, that storm only accounted for the one goal. And thanks to a deflection in the 25th minute, United were level on an own goal from Michael Parkhurst, who turned Lamar Neagle’s cross past Alec Kann. In the 36th minute, Luciano Acosta scored from outside the box after a winding run from the touchline to completely flip the tables. And ten minutes into the second half, Sebastien Le Toux provided the final goal after breaking the offside trap on a through ball from Acosta. It was Le Toux’s second of the season, both coming in the past two games.
“Our mentality switched after the goal came. It seemed like we started playing fearlessly,” center back Kofi Opare told B&RU after the game, about the Parkhurst own goal. “They’re a good team, but it took a goal for us to finally wake up. We had to step it up if we wanted to leave here with points.”
United had conceded goals in the first five minutes in the last three halves they had played, against the New York Red Bulls two weeks ago, and the Revs last week. Sunday was no different, even if it took a couple of extra minutes for Atlanta to get their goal.
United even had a quick on the field meeting between the players in hoping to collect themselves after Hamid’s save in the 3rd minute. Hamid injured his groin on the play, and while he was being attended to, the rest of the team gathered together to work out the issues that had arisen in the first two minutes or so in the game. That didn’t seem to do the trick though, as Jones worked himself free to send to bullet header home for the early lead.
“Since the beginning of the year we’ve been starting very slow,” Le Toux told reporters after the game. “We’ve tried to get better, but I guess we need more work. After that I think we [got] into a rhythm.”
That rhythm was helped by the Parkhurst own goal. Atlanta couldn’t deal with a goal kick properly, and Neagle and Le Toux combined to earn possession. Neagle looked to find Le Toux crashing the goal, but his cross was deflected in by Parkhurst.
From there, it appeared that United were in control of the game. The Five Stripes would end the game with 26 shots on target, but Hamid was rarely tested for much of the game.
“I think we just dealt with their wave pretty well,” Hamid said after the game. “Thankfully they didn’t get three goals in the first 10 minutes and we were able to make two of our own.”
Acosta’s magic made the second goal happen directly from a throw-in, and the Argentine then perfectly placed a pass to Le Toux in the second half for the third goal.
The goals helped United end their three-game string of road games with four points. There were some worries coming into this run given how United’s first road game (the 4-0 loss against NYCFC) went. But aside from the Red Bulls loss, there were plenty of good things for United to pick out as they head back to RFK Stadium for three consecutive home games.
“If you look at the positives, yeah,” Hamid said about the the performance during the three game road trip. “There’s a lot of positives in this three-game stretch.”
And while conceding early goals is still a cause for concern, the ability United has shown in the past two weeks to climb out of early holes on the road is something intangible that might help them down the road in this 2017 season.
“That’s a testament to the group we have here,” Opare told B&RU about United’s comeback on Sunday. “Everyone is resilient. A never die attitude. Especially away, getting points in MLS is extremely difficult. But this group believes in themselves in each other.”
“Everyone on the field responded, and we were able to come away with three points.”