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Atlanta United defeats D.C. United in crucial Eastern Conference matchup

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That’s a huge win, and pretty fun way to go about it as well.

MLS: D.C. United at Atlanta United FC John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Well, they did it.

Atlanta United defeated D.C. United 3-2 in a pivotal matchup in the race for Eastern Conference playoff berths. That’s now seven wins out of the last eight games for Atlanta, and this most recent victory moved Atlanta to fourth (!) in the Eastern Conference standings. Results from around the East can very well change that outlook, but Atlanta has moved into the upper half of the table under Gonzalo Pineda. That’s a reality that didn’t seem possible in the latter days of the Heinze era.

The Lineup

Santiago Sosa returned to the starting lineup after missing out against FC Cincinnati due to yellow card accumulation. Luiz Araujo started the match on the bench, while Miles Robinson wasn't involved today after Pineda announced that Miles would be taking a few days off to rest and recover.

The Highlights

Look. Ezequiel Barco opened the scoring for Atlanta in the 18th minute off a direct free kick. That’s now seven goals on the season and back-to-back games with a direct free kick goal for the Boat.

“Again, I don't think we’re seeing the best Barco yet,” Pineda says. “I don't know how he trained before, I don’t know how he played before, ... but what I know is inside of here, I can see a very hungry player. A guy that wants more, and more, and more, and he’s always looking for opportunities, not just in the games but in training sessions, to impact the attack. I think he’s a bit more mature. He looks a bit more professional to me.”

George Bello could have made it 2-0 in the 24th minute. And honestly, he should have made it 2-0. After picking up a short back pass from D.C. United’s Julian Gressel, he could have squared a pass to Josef or finished it. Instead, Bello did neither of those things.

Brad Guzan then had to deny Russel Canouse’s header with an impressive close range reaction save to keep Atlanta United’s lead intact in the 45th.

Around the 57th minute, Pineda subbed on Luiz Araujo for George Campbell, which moved the team’s shape from a back three to a back four. D.C. United then slowly took control of the match, earning multiple set pieces and creating scoring opportunities.

But then Josef Martinez scored in the 64th to extend Atlanta’s lead over D.C. Barco slipped the striker in behind for the Venezuelan’s third goal in his last two games.

Alan Franco picked up a yellow card in the 65th for time wasting. He will miss Atlanta’s next match away to Philadelphia.

D.C. United midfielder Felipe Martins banged a beautiful goal into the top right corner in the 75th, and there wasn’t much Brad Guzan could have done to stop it.

Bill Hamid had to make multiple saves in the later stages of the match, including a Marcelino Moreno volley and Josef Martinez header.

Moreno stole the show at the end of the match. Just... just watch his assist for George Bello’s goal, which sealed the match in the 87th.

Okay, well Edison Flores was like “Nah, I’m stealing the show” and then proceeded to score D.C.’s second golazo of the game. It didn’t matter much since there was less than a minute to play after that, but sheesh.

Takeaways

  • This was the most important win under Pineda so far. The Eastern Conference standings are tight, and this win should give Atlanta United some leverage in the standings. This game also felt like a must win, and they did it without Miles Robinson or Luiz Araújo in the starting lineup.
  • Once again, we saw Pineda move his team from a back three to a back four system in the middle of the game. D.C. United managed to put some pressure on Atlanta in the minutes after the system change, but Atlanta got its second goal not too long after that. It’s encouraging that Atlanta