IMAGE: Defenders

Veteran United defense looks to stifle Atlanta attack

For the Black-and-Red, defense is critical. With United's first-ever Homegrown Player Bill Hamid providing cover in goal and leading the league in saves, MLS veteran Bobby Boswell at the heart of the defense and MLS Cup winner Sean Franklin, the Black-and-Red are well-versed in defending. Leidos, the presenting partner of D.C. United, is a global science and technology leader in defense. Whether it's air, land, sea, space, or cyberspace, Leidos meets challenges and provides solutions. Sponsored by Leidos, this weekly feature delves into some of the defensive storylines for United's next match.

A youthful attack clashes with one of Major League Soccer’s most experienced defenses this Sunday when expansion side Atlanta United host the Black-and-Red for the first time. United’s back line will be tasked with slowing down Atlanta’s dangerous offense as the Black-and-Red look to secure their first road win of the season.

While Atlanta’s front line includes inexperienced talent, United’s veteran defense boasts years of invaluable experience. Bobby Boswell, Sean Franklin, Steve Birnbaum, Taylor Kemp, Nick DeLeon, and Kofi Opare have a combined 37 years of Major League Soccer experience, including 962 games played, 82,324 minutes played, 49 goals, and 70 assists.

Accolades have come with experience for United’s back line. Boswell is a former MLS Defender of the Year and a two-time MLS All-Star. Franklin is a former MLS Rookie of the Year and a two-time MLS Cup champion. Birnbaum, while only 26 years old, captains United and regularly appears in the U.S. Men’s National Team’s back line. The Black-and-Red's defense has held opponents to one goal or fewer in three matches so far this season, including a shutout of the dangerous Sporting Kansas City in Week 1. Lockdown defending also helped United secure a Week 6 win over New York City, who has the second-best goal differential in the East and the third-best differential in the league. 

"[Our defensive line] is good," defender Sean Franklin said earlier in the season. "Everyone is talking to each other, and that’s the main thing, as we have new guys in new spots, and everyone communicating with the next guy is going to help our team be successful."

Atlanta standouts Hector Villalba, Miguel Almirón, and Yamil Asad are all in their first MLS season, but have already contributed a total of eight goals and eight assists and bring speed and dangerous transition potential to Gerardo “Tata” Martino’s side. Atlanta’s 17 goals on the season give the expansion club the second-most goals and the best goal differential in Major League Soccer thus far.

Sunday’s matchup will pit experience against youth when United’s stout defense meets Atlanta's fiery offense for the first time. The Black-and-Red back line will need to remain disciplined in transition and curb the speed of Atlanta’s attack in order to help United return to D.C. with their first three road points of the season.