There’s no time for Atlanta United (10-8-3) to dwell on their huge midweek victory as a familiar Eastern Conference foe in D.C. United (9-5-8) comes to Mercedes-Benz Stadium with second place in the East on the line. D.C. has been a tough opponent for Atlanta United in the past, but the Five Stripes came out winners in the teams’ only other matchup at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. They’ll have to be at their best to do so again on Sunday.
Ahead of the huge Eastern Conference clash, we broke down the Tools to the Match, presented by The Home Depot:
Look out for LuchaRoo
It’s been one of the most potent attacking duos in the league since they joined forces last year, but D.C. often goes as far as the Wayne Rooney/Lucho Acosta combo will take them. Both are as skillful on the ball as anyone in MLS, and they’ve caused trouble for the Atlanta United defense in the past. Rooney can do damage with his passing, but not as much as when he’s taking shots on goal –– so the Five Stripes will be looking to push him deep into his defense as a passer and limit his touches near their goal. Meanwhile they’ve had the most success against Acosta when they’ve been able to prevent the ball from getting to him in the first place –– with aggressive marking of him even when he’s running off the ball. With Acosta expected to return from red card suspension this weekend, disrupting his combination play with Rooney will go a long way toward shutting down D.C.’s primary threat.
Watch out for the Wings
Rooney and Acosta bring class and technique on the ball with an eye for a killer pass –– but they are complemented by two dangerous, speedy wingers they will be looking to find in dangerous places. Atlanta United fans will recognize the same playbook D.C. Has employed in the past –– sit back and absorb pressure, then find Rooney or Acosta for a pressure-splitting pass to Paul Arriola or Lucas Rodriguez on the break. Both are capable of stretching the defense with their speed, and they can both finish when given the opportunity, so Atlanta United will have to be aware of where they are at all times. Staying patient in the attack and disciplined in defense will prevent D.C. from getting behind their defense in numbers, and shut down another key attacking tactic D.C. has found joy with this season.
Feed the King
If Atlanta United can break down D.C.’s deep defensive block, they’ll still have to beat a goalkeeper that seems to always play his best against the Five Stripes in Bill Hamid. But if there’s anyone who can beat Hamid right now it may be Josef Martinez, whose 11 goals in his past 7 matches in all competitions makes him one of the most in-form attackers in the league. And while Atlanta United will always look to play the ball on the ground, a good aerial threat can go a long way toward breaking down a bunkered defense –– and Martinez has been the single most dangerous player in the league in the air since he joined two seasons ago. If the Five Stripes can get on the board first, it will make D.C. come out of their defensive posture and open up the game in their favor.
The match is set to kick off Sunday at 4 p.m. EST from Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, and you can watch the match on ESPN. Tickets are available here, and for more details on how to follow along from home, click here.