Atlanta United’s 5-2 win against Inter Miami was as exhilarating as it was satisfying to hand the Herons the first loss of the Messi era. The Five Stripes can’t rest on their laurels for long, however, and return to action as soon as this Wednesday with a visit to DC United.
The Wayne Rooney-coached United has lurked around the playoff line for much of 2023 and currently sits 9th with 35 points, holding the final playoff spot by two points. Its numbers say it should be doing at least somewhat better; DC has the 7th best attack and 8th-best defense, as well as the 7th highest expected goals differential in the Eastern Conference. Those solid underlying numbers will only go so far, however, and DC has been trending down on the pitch of late, with just one win in the most recent five outings. The midseason departure of DP attacker Taxi Fountas (who still is one of only two DC players to have over 5 goals alongside Christian Benteke) left a hole in the final third that has only partially been filled by 21-year-old Theodore Ku-Dipietro (5g, 1a). DC has managed three straight shutouts, but two of those ended in scoreless draws in games it sure could have used three points in (vs San Jose and @ Charlotte).
Atlanta’s win over Miami didn’t change much in the standings - the Five Stripes remain 6th - but it has opened up a route into the top four and home-field advantage for playoffs. Gonzalo Pineda’s side is three points out of third and five out of second, albeit with one to two more games played than all the teams above it. Games in hand are far from ensured three points, however, and the following week of games gives Atlanta a perfect opportunity to leapfrog a team or two. The Five Stripes have DC and Montreal (H) on the way, its last clearly winnable matches of the season before a gauntlet run of Philadelphia (A), Columbus (H), and Cincinnati (A) to close out the campaign. With the way Atlanta is playing, though, the sky is the limit, but keeping the momentum alive is crucial to making sure it stays that way.
Atlanta has a 9W-0D-6L lead in the all-time series, including a victory by a 3-1 scoreline in the reverse fixture.
Predicted Starting XIs
Prediction: DC United 1-2 Atlanta United
It won’t be quite as fun as Saturday’s goal-fest but Atlanta will still take all three points back home thanks to a Thiago Almada brace.