ATL UTD players show mental strength to overcome early deficit

It’s almost easy to forget now after the historic highs of Saturday night’s second half, but the match started with an uneasy feeling at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“They caught us on a very good counterattack,” said Michael Parkhurst after the game. “I was tight with (Luciano) Acosta but the ball went by both of us, straight to Rooney. He lays it off perfectly and once that happens, we’re in big trouble. They have a two on one down our left-hand side and it’s a very good finish. It was way too easy. We got caught out of position and it’s something that we’re going to have to make sure doesn’t happen because we can’t keep on giving up the first goal.”

It was an early blow for a defensive unit that has grown into one of the strongest in the league for the second year running. Facing a D.C. United side that is so capable on the counter attack is a tough proposition when you’re chasing the game –– especially a D.C. team with Wayne Rooney leading the line. But the defense collected itself and locked up the rest of the match. And after showing patience and poking and prodding at the D.C. United back line, the Five Stripes got the goal their pressure deserved before the end of the first half.

“It was huge,” Chris McCann told reporters. “I thought we were going to start a trend by going down a goal like last week, but that shows the character of the team. We were a goal down last week, fought back but couldn’t win it in the end. Today, we stuck to our game and what we do best. Our form at home has been a bit indifferent of late, we spoke about that last time, so going a goal down doesn’t help. We are mentally strong though and we showed that.”

Both veteran defenders put that down to sticking to and trusting the original gameplan –– not rushing or panicking when they went down early. They kept the ball moving quickly, and as Tata Martino urged last week, moved the ball quickly to beat the bunkered defense. And in the end they got a cathartic victory to turn around some recent home form that hadn’t gone their way.

“It was a good victory tonight,” Parkhurst said. “That’s a very good DC United team, much improved from last year or even from earlier this season when we played them. We talked about how it was a big game. We’ve been throwing away too many points at home and we needed that one, so it was a very good victory.”

McCann added, “we just stuck to what we know is best and the goals came.”

What started as a night of frustration turned out to be a confidence-boosting victory as the team prepares for a road trip to face Montreal.

“We knew it was going to be a tough game,” goalkeeper Brad Guzan said. “It was going to be a different game from when we first played them at the beginning of the season. They’ve got some very good attacking options… But it was important to show that desire and ability to come back being one-nil down and ultimately win the game pretty comfortably.”