D.C. United started out well on Wednesday night against Atlanta United, a team that they beat several months ago after a horror start to the game. United had several chances early on, coming close to ending a near 400 minute streak of no goals at home. They didn’t convert those chances though, and instead, Atlanta took a lead in the 17th minute, capitalizing on a mistake from the Black-and-Red.
Given how poorly United have performed, especially at home, over the past two months, it wouldn’t have been outlandish to think that the team was destined for another loss at home, in what was a essentially a must win game. Instead, United took advantage of their opportunities, and beat Atlanta 2-1, their first goals and win at home since April 8th.
Not exactly enough to save their season at the moment, but maybe the type of result that may help them turn around what has been a disappointing 2017 thus far.
“I liked that we scored a few goals. I liked that we won,” head coach Ben Olsen said after the game, when asked what he liked about his team’s performance. “I like that [when] we went down, and we came back. It’s an easy game to throw your hands up early.”
Atlanta’s goal was out of the blue, thanks to miscommunication between Ian Harkes, Kofi Opare, and Steve Birnbaum. Harkes tried to play to one of his teammates near midfield, but neither reacted quickly to the ball. Yamil Asad instead intercepted, and two passes later, Atlanta had their lead.
Not exactly what the Black-and-Red were hoping for, but also not exactly a dagger, considering what United had already done in the game up to that point.
“We played well in the first half, and we turned off on one play, and they punished us for it,” Olsen said of Atlanta’s goal. “We have to cut out some of the lack of focus throughout the game. By and large, it was a pretty good game for us, and a step in the right direction.”
A big part of that was the fact that D.C. responded quickly to Atlanta’s opener. United kept applying pressure, kept getting forward, and six minutes later, had a goal of their own. A poor pass out of the back from keeper Alec Kann fell to Luciano Acosta, and the Argentine playmaker made the most of it, scoring his fourth goal of the season en route to a level score at the break.
“I wasn’t concerned at that point, because of the way we were playing. I think we were playing well at that time, turning them over, creating chances,” Patrick Nyarko said in the press conference after the game. “They just weren’t going in. For a creative player that I am, I get concerned if we’re not getting chances. At that point, I wasn’t worried at all. I knew one was going to go in.”
Sebastien Le Toux went close to end the first half, and United kept that momentum going in the second half, with Nyarko and Jose Ortiz nearly breaking the deadlock early on.
Then, doing well to settle a cross at the top of the box, Nyarko lashed a goal past Kann, his first tally of the 2017 season.
“The buildup to it was good,” Nyarko said of his game winning goal. “One-touch passing to eliminate numbers from the other team. I just positioned myself in the box, like I had been doing all game. I was getting a little bit unlucky there, but this game set up well for me. I hit through it, and luckily it went in.”
With 30 minute left, three points from a 2-1 scoreline was far from a sure thing. United almost had a third late on, but Lamar Neagle just wasn’t able to find Deshorn Brown in the middle of the box, with a goal sure to seal the three points.
And though United kept Atlanta from creating many dangerous chances late on, Bill Hamid had to make one huge save at the end of the game. Josef Martinez, who missed the first meeting between the two teams, smashed a free kick that was deflected on target, forcing Hamid to push the ball wide with the last touch of the game.
That gave United the three points they so desperately craved, even if there is still plenty of work for them to do over the final 18 games of the season to make the playoffs at the end of the year.
And it surely took a weight off their shoulders to finally score and win at home. By the time that Acosta’s shot skipped past Kann at the near post, it had been 400 minutes since United had scored at home.
“We set ourselves up for chances, and put ourselves in good spots, instead of hoping things would come out of nothing,” Ian Harkes said of the team’s ability to score goals against Atlanta on Wednesday night. “There was good build-up tonight, and we took our chances well.”
Now comes the hard part for the Black-and-Red. Their next four games are on the road, starting with a trip up the East Coast to face the Philadelphia Union this Saturday. Given how poor the team has performed at home this year, United face the prospect of needing at least one win against the Union, the Montreal Impact, FC Dallas, or the Seattle Sounders, with a draw or two also being quite helpful.
That’s something not lost on this team.
“We got a lot of work to do, but today was a good step for us,” said Olsen.