Atlanta United welcomes DC United on the heels of a disappointing draw with the Seattle Sounders. The game was really a frustrating showing for the Five Stripes and also something of an embarrassment for the league. Following a World Cup final with an exciting result and a smooth, easy to understand, and consistent VAR process, Seattle brought their brand of anti-soccer to Atlanta with Baldomero Toledo only being consistent in making bad calls for both teams. Surely, this is not what the league had in mind when it scheduled last season’s Western Conference champion and Atlanta United were scheduled at the beginning of the year.
Despite the poor refereeing, Atlanta had chances to win the game and failing to do so against a 10 man side is a lost opportunity for points that should have gone into the win column. Still, give Brian Schmetzer credit, it isn’t every coach that can get all 11 or 10 players to roll around on the ground as much as possible, while seeming to actively avoid trying to score goals, or get Nico Lodeiro, who should be one of the best attacking players in the league, to play like he’s Felipe.
Anyway, the past is the past so this week we can invite another referee to ruin a soccer game as Atlanta under-preforms against a lesser opponent who might be turning a corner on the season once again.
DC United - Playoff contenders?
Feast your eyes on the team that will end up knocking Atlanta out of the playoffs.
If the rest of MLS plays out with the teams maintaining their home and away PPG form, this is what the Eastern Conference table looks like:— Tutul Rahman (@tutulismyname) July 19, 2018
ATL - 67pts
RBNY - 66
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
NYCFC - 65
DC - 50 (!!!)
CLB - 48
PHI - 46
MTL - 45
NE - 45
ORL - 38
CHI - 37
TFC - 29
Obviously, a lot of things have to go right for DCU, but they could fight their way into the post season. That’s despite the fact that DC United has been one of the worst teams in MLS this year. For some reason, the league let them go without a home stadium for four months and the team has only played 15 games as a result. They sit at 3-5-7 with just 14 points from those matches in dead last in the league. Naturally, the Black and Red are coming off of a home win after opening Audi Field in front of the fans the front office isn’t fighting with after beating the Vancouver Whitecaps 3-1.
The big story in that match was the debut of Wayne Rooney. The Designated Player and biggest signing in club history came on as a substitute - you could almost hear Piano Sonata No. 2 playing for Darren Mattocks’ playing time as he came off the field for the new no. 9 - and watched as Rooney earned an assist (a real one, not a Sacha Kljestan one) and put DC ahead 3-0 prior to Alphonso Davies dancing the ball through half of the United defense to draw one back for the Caps.
The small story in that match was that before Rooney came in, everything went right for DC. Yamil Asad scored a screaming golazo to put them ahead 1-0 and last year’s big signing, American winger Paul Arriola, doubled the lead before Rooney assisted him on his brace.
Despite the good performance, DC is still an awful team - now they’re an awful team with Wayne Rooney on it. Still, the club can do some things that will make it difficult for Atlanta United in the game. One player who can do that is holding midfielder Chris Durkin. The 18 year-old has become a fixture of the DCU midfield and seems to be improving with every game. In addition to shielding the backline, Durkin takes great care of the ball and has excellent vision for long passes. If DC is successful at playing the counter, Durkin will be the one springing Asad, Luciano Acosta, Arriola, and Rooney and Atlanta should be closing him down every time he touches the ball.
This is getting exhausting
Pure and simple, Atlanta United is not taking care of business at home - they’re getting bailed out by getting results on the road unless they’re in Dallas, but dropping points at home is going to hurt the team. As stated above, Seattle was effective at stopping the Atlanta attack, but just as successful at stopping the Atlanta attack was Atlanta. Miguel Almiron had a difficult game and failed to score on what should have been a chance to win the game late last weekend. The goal was there for the taking along with all three points and it just didn’t happen.
As for this week, despite the fact that the Five Stripes managed to beat DC United in the spring when they visited MBS, teams seem to have a plan that the Black and Red should be able to adopt this time around. Seattle was very successful at frustrating Atlanta, kicking Almiron, tripping over themselves and trying to fight Josef Martinez, rolling on the ground and acting like 11 and then 10 individual Felipes as they earned their point as they sit in 10th place in the West and hope their new designated player can get them to 9th place like Darwin Quintero did for Minnesota United.
This seems to be the new gamble that teams are making in Atlanta. They know they can’t beat the Five Stripes tactically in an open match and are settling either for a draw or just trying to avoid a blowout as a safer and more realistic option. Some of the time it works, as it did for 70+ minutes for Montreal and Seattle, others it doesn’t, as DC United learned the first time they visited this year.
That said, while Atlanta didn’t get that second goal, the chances were there. Games against teams that bunker seem like they are more subject to the forces of randomness than other matches - a penalty actually being called, a long range shot going in, a deflection, the one breakaway chance being converted and Atlanta rightly comes away with all three points against a team it dominated and forced into getting a red card.
Soccer is hard.
Atlanta will continue to deal with these tactics as best they can and hope that the chances they have been creating end up turning into goals, otherwise points at home will continue to escape along with Atlanta’s chance at a Supporters’ Shield.