Preview | Week 17

D.C. United host expansion side Atlanta United for the first time in a match that holds critical points for the Black-and-Red. United will look to capitalize on Atlanta’s road struggles and continue the success they found in their earlier 3-1 win in Georgia.

The sides met for the first time in history on April 30 and United generated the most offensive production they’ve had to date. Despite being stretched thin by Atlanta’s relentless attack and going down a goal in the 9th minute, United scored twice in the first half and added a security goal in the second to earn their first road win of the season. Lamar Neagle forced an own goal to equalize, while a long Luciano Acosta strike gave United the lead and a crafty Sébastien Le Toux finish effectively secured the victory.

Now, as the expansion side comes to RFK for the first of their two matches here this season, Ben Olsen’s side will attempt to recreate the attacking chemistry they spurred in Bobby Dodd Stadium. With forward Patrick Mullins sidelined and a variety of attackmen available, Olsen may continue to experiment with his lineup and try different combinations up top. United’s range of forwards and midfielders contribute different styles of attack, allowing the Black-and-Red to truly diversify their scoring opportunities.

“It’s important over the next few weeks to compete, get better and find out who our best group is,” Olsen said.

Le Toux is skilled in running behind opposing back lines, which allowed him to score in the sides’ last match. Acosta is comfortable carrying the ball himself thanks to his footwork, but also has excellent vision in distributing. Neagle provides a deft threat on the wing and led the team in scoring last year. With Patrick Nyarko also back to health and available on the wing, United will be pressing to rediscover the offensive spark that earned them the huge win in Atlanta.

In the back, Bill Hamid was a game changer in United’s earlier match against Atlanta, and will likely be called upon again to come up with a handful of decisive saves. Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino’s attack is known for their latin flair, with the likes of Miguel Almirón, Yamil Asad, Hector Villalba, and Josef Martinez leading the charge. In the April meeting, United’s back line combination of Taylor Kemp, Bobby Boswell, Kofi Opare, and Sean Franklin did well to bend but not break, recovering after the early Kenwyne Jones goal to absorb pressure but disallow any further breakthroughs. Assuming Atlanta’s attack will be equally as fiery tonight, the Black-and-Red back line will need to maintain composure and play with the same approach of absorbing pressure, but not conceding goals.

“The way they play and the talent that they have, they cause a lot of problems and force you to make tough decisions,” Olsen said. “I think our guys have the right chip on their shoulder. We have something to prove every weekend.”

Both sides will be hungry for points tonight. The Black-and-Red are looking to make a run in the Eastern Conference, while Atlanta are searching for results on the road, as the expansion side has won only one away match in their last eight road games. Atlanta return to RFK once more during the regular season for another midweek showdown on August 23.