Just days after beating the Colorado Rapids 1-0 through a once in a lifetime own goal, there was no way D.C. United would have similar luck on Wednesday night against Atlanta United. Too many things have gone against United this year, who entered the game in last place in MLS standings, to expect to get a similar bounce.
But once again, the Black-and-Red found a way to solve the Atlanta puzzle, with the help of another own goal. United forced an own goal out of Michael Parkhurst, running out 1-0 winners. It marked the first time in league history that a team leaned on own goals in their favor en route to consecutive 1-0 wins.
And to top it all off, it was the third time in three tries that United took down their counterparts, who are otherwise 10-5-5 in league play.
“Across the board, we made a lot of little plays tonight that we have not been making consistently throughout the year,” head coach Ben Olsen said in his press conference after the game. “Little plays, gutsy plays, getting a toe in, doing an extra five yards or ten yards to help the guy next to us.”
In the first half, those little plays helps see out an opening surge from Atlanta. Due to the delay in the opening of their new stadium, Atlanta had to move two recent games until later in the year. That left them with 17 days between matches, and they came out energized. That was a stark contrast with United, who just had to sweat out a win at altitude against the Rapids.
By around the 30th minute, there seemed to be a swing in momentum. Atlanta had their chances for an opening goal, but United - who had struggled up to that point to even string passes together - created two good looks at goal to finish out the half.
They picked up right where they started in the second half. Russell Canouse, in just his second appearance with the team since his signing, forced the own goal from Parkhurst in the 46th minute.
“I don’t know how Brad [Guzan] got it. I’m excited to look at the replay,” Canouse said of his initial shot attempt, which forced Guzan into a great save. But the ball stayed in play, and Lloyd Sam crossed the ball back over to Canouse.
“I tried to run on the back post, to see if I could be involved again,” added Canouse, as he recounted the game’s only goal. “And somehow the ball popped out to me, and I tried to head it across goal, and put it in a dangerous spot. And Parkhurst slotted it in for me, so that was pretty exciting.”
In addition to being the second game-winning own goal in just days for United, it was also the second time Parkhurst scored an own goal benefiting the Black-and-Red this year. Parkhurst also sent the ball into his own net back in April, equalizing for D.C. as they came back to beat Atlanta 3-1 in the first meeting between the two teams.
“It was as expected,” Jalen Robinson, who stood in for the injured Steve Birnbaum, said of Atlanta’s opening surge. “It’s amazing how they pass the ball around. We were on high alert for the first 30 minutes. But the last 15 minutes of the first half, we took it to them. In the second half, we came out flying.”
There were a couple of more opportunities for United to add to their lead, just like the other night against the Rapids. As in Saturday’s win, it wasn’t to be, but United did a better job of shutting Atlanta down late on. The closest Atlanta came to an equalizer was in stoppage time, when Josef Martinez just nudged a cross past the far post.
The win for United marked just the second time this year that they have won consecutive games. It’s also the first time they’ve posted shutouts in consecutive games. A month ago, United was making league history by becoming the first team to lose a game in which they led 3-0. They also had a run in which they allowed 15 goals in just 4 games.
Now, they’re coming off of back-to-back wins, and they’ve only conceded two goals in their last four games. They’ve only scored three times in that stretch, increasing the pressure on their defense. And though they are still eleven points away from a playoff spot with eight games left, the team isn’t quite ready to give up on the 2017 season just yet.
“I think the group believes that we can still do something this season. You look at last year, how we were able to make a run in the latter stages of the season,” center back Kofi Opare said after the game. “Judging by the past few weeks, this group has shown that they have the ability to compete with the best teams in the league. We’re just trying to take it game by game. Today was an important three points.”
And that ability in recent weeks has been buoyed by the new arrivals to the club. Paul Arriola once again had a solid outing for the Black-and-Red, while Canouse put in a man of the match worthy performance, to go along with forcing the own goal. Now, with Zoltan Stieber available, United are at a minimum looking to get into gear for next year, when they’ll finally move into their new home at Audi Field.
“I don’t see a team that is in last place in MLS. I’m coming in here, and I see guys who are ready to play, hungry, who want to fight,” Canouse said. “We’re going to climb the table.”