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D.C. United 3-1 Atlanta United: Missed opportunities

A chance for the Five Stripes to take an edge in the Supporters’ Shield race comes up empty.

MLS: Atlanta United FC at D.C. United Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta United had a chance to clinch a playoff berth while jumping back into the lead for the Supporters’ Shield. Instead, it delivered one of its less convincing away performances of the season in a 3-1 loss to D.C. United.

It wasn’t as bad as the 4-0 loss to the Houston Dynamo to open the season, but for a club that hoped to get a foothold against the New York Red Bulls in the standings, it was a poor time to come away empty handed.

Atlanta looked sloppy in the early going with some mistimed passes and poor pursuit of the ball, which might have been foreshadowing for how the remainder of the night would go. As the match went on, it began to settle in a little and look for chances in the box, getting its best chance in the 24th minute as Bill Hamid misjudged a ball that deflected off Ezequiel Barco and off the post. But D.C. United struck first in the 29th courtesy of Lucho Acosta, who continued his strong recent form by getting behind the defense and firing it past Brad Guzan to make it 1-0. Later, a goal line clearance was all that came between D.C. and a 2-0 lead as Atlanta’s back line continued to struggle in front of a frustrated Guzan.

In the 40th minute, Atlanta gained a equalizer from an unlikely source. Jeff Larentowicz’s perfect header off a corner kick sailed behind Hamid to knot it at 1.

In the 52nd minute, Paul Arriola won a penalty as Barco was ruled to have taken him down in the box, and Wayne Rooney calmly converted to make it 2-1. D.C. United looked a step faster than Atlanta at times throughout the 2nd, and in the 77th minute, shaky defending doomed the Five Stripes once more. Acosta added his second in what turned out to be a dagger of a goal to put the momentum firmly on his team’s side.

“It was just an off night,” Larentowicz said. “It’s not often that we get outplayed. I think that we just weren’t as sharp as we usually are. We had opportunities to score, we had opportunities to defend and we didn’t really do either.”

“I think we played well in the first half,” Tata Martino said. “I thought the tie was deserved at that point - there could have been another goal difference. Then in the second half, I think the penalty changed things. We kind of lost a little bit of confidence and got down on ourselves. We were a little bit disorganized and didn’t have as much control of the game.”

It’s not so much that Atlanta lost the match and had an chance to go up two points on the Red Bulls with a game in hand. They’re now forced to sit with the result for nearly two weeks with its next match at the Colorado Rapids coming on September 15.

“We watch everything. We know whats going on,” Larentowicz said. “We obviously focus on what we want to do on game night, but it’s clear what the picture is. It’s certainly an opportunity going into the break. But we’ll move on...when we come back from our break we’ll do it again.”