D.C. United faces Atlanta United tonight in an acutely desperate situation. The Black-and-Red are 7 points short of the red line in the Eastern Conference, and have been shut out in four straight home games. After going 3W-1D-1L in the month of April and appearing to be on course to be at least a solid mid-table team, the wheels have come off. United is 1W-1D-5L since, and their only goal in that spell came via a dive that drew a suspension.
Still, there’s a glimmer of (possibly just coincidental) hope. United’s last goal from open play came back on April 30th, against none other than Atlanta. This impostor United, having chosen nearly the same name and nearly the same colors, fell 3-1 at Bobby Dodd Stadium to the genuine article.
While the league-wide buzz around Atlanta makes it seem like they’ve built a real contender, the reality is that they’re below the red line right now too, and their defense is more of a suggestion than an actual back four. Of the 23 goals they’ve conceded this year, 15 have come in road games. I know it sounds crazy, but this is a team United can score goals on.
Key player: Jared Jeffrey
If the Black-and-Red are going to beat the popular poser United again, they’re going to need to shut down Paraguayan attacking midfielder Miguel Almiron. That’s a job that requires the entire team to be strong, but no one will have more work to do than Jeffrey. The trick with Almiron is that he’s always on the move; he’s looking to find open space to playmake from, he’s looking for gaps to make runs off the ball, and when Atlanta doesn’t have the ball, he’s one of the first people to apply pressure to win it back.
It’s no accident that he has 8 goals and 4 assists in 15 appearances. Almiron is one of the best players in MLS, and frustrating him - something that United did fairly well in the final 65 minutes down south - is going to be essential. For Jeffrey, that means never losing track of Almiron in defensive phases, and being extremely sharp and composed on the ball. If Almiron and Atlanta are forcing him into turnovers, it’s going to be a long night for the defense.
Location: Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium (Washington, DC)
Kickoff time: 7:30pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (4231) - Bill Hamid; Chris Odoi-Atsem, Steve Birnbaum, Kofi Opare, Taylor Kemp; Jared Jeffrey, Ian Harkes; Lloyd Sam, Luciano Acosta, Patrick Nyarko; Jose Ortiz
Bench: Travis Worra, Jalen Robinson, Chris Korb, Marcelo Sarvas, Lamar Neagle, Sebastien Le Toux, Deshorn Brown
I don’t suspect much rotation, since Saturday/Wednesday is easier than Wednesday/Saturday and since United needs to be all-in on breaking this horrid run of form at home. Odoi-Atsem and Ortiz seem like probable players to cycle in, but beyond that it’ll be the same team that was managing Toronto FC fairly well before one major error threw the game away.
As for why Deshorn Brown isn’t in the starting 11...dude has had one training session with the team. Defending from the front may be the last thing people want to hear about right now, but against Atlanta it’s an important concept, and there’s no way he’s had time to learn what United really wants as far as that goes. I do expect him to play, but I’m thinking he appears in the last 15 minutes. Anything earlier than that would come from some pretty ugly circumstances (down by 2+, or a series of injuries).
Projected Atlanta starting 11: (433) - Alec Kann; Tyrone Mears/Mark Bloom, Michael Parkhurst, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Greg Garza; Kevin Kratz/Julian Gressel, Jeff Larentowicz, Miguel Almiron; Gressel/Hector Villalba, Villalba/Josef Martinez, Yamil Asad
Carlos Carmona’s suspension will cause the major question in this lineup. Tata Martino could opt to use veteran utility midfielder Kevin Kratz directly in his spot, preserving the front three of Gressel, Villalba, and Asad that has been in place for a few weeks. However, Martinez made his return from injury on the weekend, and if Martino judges him to be 45+ minutes fit, he could bring in the Venezuelan up front. That would see Villalba move back to the right wing, and Gressel slotting into the midfield.
Given the razor-sharp finishing Martinez brings, the Black-and-Red will be hoping to see the former. Kratz is a viable MLS player; Martinez is one of the best strikers in the league.
Elsewhere, if there’s any rotation for Atlanta, it might be at right back, where the 34 year old Mears might need a break. Other than that, it seems like there will be few changes to the team that beat Columbus 3-1 on Saturday.
Referee: Nima Saghafi
Available TV: NewsChannel 8 and regional affiliates (check the link for the over-the-air alternate channel in your area), including CW Richmond in RVA.
Available streaming: MLS Live for those outside the blackout radius
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
What do we have to say about it?: Covering yesterday’s signing of Deshorn Brown forced us to push back some articles about this game. We’ll have predictions and a look at Atlanta’s probable lineup coming out today.
What are you drinking?: I’ll be having a pregame cup of coffee on my way to RFK. (looks at weather app) Make that a cold brew coffee.
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion. Vamos any signs of life!