It’s 3 wins on the bounce for Atlanta United following its 1-0 victory over last-place Toronto FC on Wednesday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. In Toronto’s defense (defence), it gave a fairly good account of itself, with Atlanta failing to add to its lead and counting itself fortunate that Ezequiel Barco’s 20th-minute goal stood up.
And all of a sudden, Atlanta sit on 24 points, level with the Columbus Crew and 3 points behind D.C. United and CF Montréal. Results on Wednesday certainly broke the way of the Five Stripes: the Crew dropped their 5th straight in a 1-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls, 10-man Montréal failed to register a shot during a scoreless draw at FC Cincinnati, and D.C. have let in a total of 8 goals in away losses to Nashville SC on Sunday (5-2) and Supporters’ Shield-leading New England Revolution on Wednesday (3-2).
So, when Atlanta takes on D.C. on Saturday at Audi Field, a win plus a Montréal loss won’t put it in a playoff spot — D.C. and Montréal would still have more wins, the first tiebreaker—but the optics would certainly look much better considering where this team was just a few weeks ago. (Quick note: Rob Valentino will coach the team one last time on Saturday before Gonzalo Pineda takes the reins against Nashville SC at the Benz next Saturday, although Pineda will fly into D.C. on Friday.)
So, what should we make of Hernán Losada’s men at this point? First off, D.C. have been much improved as Losada’s installed his tactical approach on the team, and, well, it’s more than a little different than what Ben Olsen favored.
But despite that, injuries have caught up to the Black and Red. From late July to early August, they found itself on a 5-match unbeaten streak (3-0-2). But they let C.J. Sapong put on a show in a 5-2 loss at Nashville as the Boys in Gold remained unbeaten at Nissan Stadium, while an early Paul Arriola goal and a strong start was wasted as the Revs claimed their 22nd point out of a possible 24 over their last 8 to grow their lead atop the table. However, D.C.’s won its last 4 at Audi Field, so it’ll hope the comforts of home can push it back in the win column. Arriola, by the way, suffered a hamstring of his own during the match.
We can’t mention D.C. without mentioning the resurgent season Ola Kamara has had thus far. The Norwegian striker was strong in limited appearances in 2019 but languished during a disappointing 2020 season. The lightbulb’s come on in 2021 as he’s been in torrid form over the past month-plus, recording 7 goals and 2 assists in his last 7 matches. His goal-scoring streak ended at 6 during D.C.’s loss at New England, but he wasn’t held off the scoresheet as he added a late assist after coming on past the quarter-hour mark.
The youngsters have been involved this year for D.C. as well: we’ve seen homegrowns such as Griffin Yow, Kevin Paredes and Moses Nyeman get their turns in the lineup. Nyeman (17 appearances) and Paredes (13 appearances) have received the lion’s share of playing time out of that trio.
And, of course, there’s Yamil Asad and Julian Gressel, which I’m obligated to mention. (Not really.)
Predicted Starting XI For Atlanta United (Note: Original post had Santiago Sosa before Rob Valentino’s media availability, and Valentino all but ruled out his chances for Saturday)
Prediction: D.C. United 0-2 Atlanta United
Josef Martinez was held off the scoresheet against Toronto, but I think he finds it once more on Saturday. Ezequiel Barco will maintain his form and add the 2nd as the Five Stripes put a bow on Valentino’s interim era.