Fortune has not smiled on D.C. United much this season, but when it comes to games against Atlanta United it would seem that fortune prefers Black-and-Red over red and black. 25% of United’s goals on the season have come against the highly regarded newcomers, as well as one-third of their wins. If not for United’s 3-1 win in April and 2-1 win in June, Atlanta might be in a position to push for a bye in the first round of the playoffs; instead, they’re currently below the red line (though with games in hand on literally everybody).
For D.C. - hopefully able to put all four transfer window signings onto the field for the first time tonight - this still amounts to a major test, no matter past success against Tata Martino’s side. They’ve outplayed ATL before at RFK, but can they do it again while missing half of their starting defense and the scorer of the game-winner that day? And can they do it while trying to incorporate so many new faces?
Key player: Kofi Opare
Steve Birnbaum is going to miss this game due to a concussion, which means that the most experienced center back - no matter whether Ben Olsen starts in Birnbaum’s spot - will be Opare. With Atlanta’s attacking weapons and United’s lineup in flux, this is going to be a huge challenge for him. Opare has rarely had to function as a leader in the back since joining the Black-and-Red, and today he’ll have to do so without Taylor Kemp to his left, and with a center back partner that has made fewer than 15 MLS starts in the last 5 years to his right.
If United is going to use this fall to start making progress for 2018, one thing they’ll have to start being better at is winning games without Bill Hamid winning Man of the Match so regularly. That means better play all over the field, of course, but the stakes at center back are high. Trading Bobby Boswell to Atlanta means that Opare is secure as a starter right now, but like everyone else, he’s going to have to prove that he deserves that security heading into next year. A high-level performance tonight would certainly not hurt his case.
Location: Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium (Washington, DC)
Kickoff time: 7:30pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (4231) - Bill Hamid; Sean Franklin, Jalen Robinson, Kofi Opare, Nick DeLeon; Russell Canouse, Marcelo Sarvas; Paul Arriola, Luciano Acosta, Lloyd Sam; Patrick Mullins
Bench: Steve Clark, Chris Odoi-Atsem, Chris Korb, Jared Jeffrey, Ian Harkes, Zoltan Stieber, Deshorn Brown
With Birnbaum out, I’m guessing Olsen will go with a natural center back in Robinson rather than moving Franklin into the middle, DeLeon to the right, and starting Odoi-Atsem or Korb on the left. However, that is still a guess, and could in fact be how things play out.
Other than that, I don’t see any changes to the lineup that broke United out of a 0W-1D-7L streak. The bench is a different story, though, with Stieber eligible to play and both Brown and Harkes fit enough to participate. If one of those two is not quite ready for this game, Bruno Miranda will take the open spot.
Projected Atlanta starting 11: (433) - Brad Guzan; Anton Walkes, Michael Parkhurst, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Greg Garza; Carlos Carmona, Jeff Larentowicz, Miguel Almiron; Julian Gressel, Hector Villalba, Yamil Asad
The main thing to watch today is whether Josef Martinez starts, makes the bench, or is held back entirely. He’s listed as questionable, and as good at Atlanta is, Martinez being on the field is what makes them a true contender rather than a simple playoff-caliber team. Elsewhere, Garza appears to be healthy again after hurting his shoulder in the All-Star Game, while Guzan and Walkes have both taken over as starters since these teams last met.
Referee: Ted Unkel (here’s how I feel about that)
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?: We’ll have a deeper look at Atlanta’s lineup later today. Until then, Filibuster talks about this one (among other things).
What are you drinking?: I should have time to grab a drink on my way into the District, but I have no real idea what it will be. This is not a helpful answer. Maybe a bottle of Jarritos with some tacos?
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion. Vamos beginning of a shocking winning streak that somehow ends with United in the playoffs!