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Atlanta United 1-3 DC United: It’s not how you start, but how you finish

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The first 15-20 minutes? Great. The rest of it? Well...

MLS: D.C. United at Atlanta United FC Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a saying around NFL circles - “Any given Sunday” - that relates to the fact that any team can beat any other team, regardless of stats, various factors, etc. I suppose you can apply this to Atlanta United’s 3-1 loss to DC United: Atlanta entered the match as MLS’s top scoring team, while DC was scraping the barrel as one of the most offensively inept clubs in the league. It didn’t look like it today.

Atlanta opened with waves of pressure right out of the gate. In just the first two minutes, Tito Villalba was stopped on two point-blank shots, the second right on the doorstep that was gobbled up by Bill Hamid. Add a yellow card on Sean Franklin and a minutes-long pause for an injured Hamid and the energy decreased a bit. It wouldn’t stay that way: in the ninth minute, Greg Garza kept the ball in just inside the touch line and passed it to Yamil Asad just outside the box. Asad did a terrific job beating his defender and crossing it to Kenwyne Jones, who neatly knocked it in of his head to give Atlanta yet another early goal.

It very easily could have been 3-0 at worst for the home side, and the very fact that Atlanta couldn’t finish on those empty chances came back to bite them in a big way. In the 24th minute. Lamar Neagle, who had missed on an attempt of his own earlier, would have a shot toward net deflected in by Michael Parkhurst and be ruled an own goal to knot it at 1-1.

“We started the game exactly how we wanted to. We put them under a ton of pressure,” defender Michael Parkhurst said afterwards. “We got the goal, and we were in a good spot. It was downhill from there.”

That seemed to be the turning point as DCU began to capitalize on a few Atlanta miscues - eventually seeing themselves to a go-ahead goal off the foot of Luciano Acosta in the 37th minute to make it a 2-1 contest. It was thanks to a goal kick out of bounds by Alec Kann and shocking defending to allow Acosta to walk in practically unmolested to convert the opportunity. Kann didn’t see enough of it during the course of play with a number of players on the line.

“It went through someone’s legs,” Kann said. “I’ll have to watch it again.”

Atlanta were a little creaky to start the 2nd half, and paid for it dearly in the 55th minute. Acosta found the score sheet again - this time as an assist man on a perfect pass ahead to Sebastien Le Toux. The Frenchman was just onside enough to walk in alone and easily beat Kann to make it 3-1 for the visitors.

Atlanta would have a few attempts to get a goal back, but couldn’t as it was DC United coming away with the away result despite a slow opening. Looking back, they’ll be kicking themselves for not converting on clear opportunities that they had early on, especially with a tough stretch at New York City FC and the Portland Timbers looming.

“We are creating chances, (but) when we’re ahead, we can’t give the other team an opportunity to come back into the game,” said Tata Martino. “We have to make sure we don’t give the other team those chances to score.”

“For us, sometimes you need a little wake-up call. A lot of things had been going well for us, but today was a setback.” Tyrone Mears said. “But we’re not going to get down or change things. Drastic things aren’t going to happen. It’s just going to be more hard work on the training ground. We’ll go to New York feeling fresh and looking to win the game.”

“We have two tough road tests. We have to get back in on Tuesday (for training) and regroup,” Kann said. “All sights (are) on a big game next Sunday in New York.”