Team of the Matchday

Brad Guzan awarded MLS Team of the Matchday honors for clean sheet in D.C.

Team of the Matchday Brad Guzan, Thiago Almada, following 1-0 win over D.C. United

Atlanta United was looking for a spark Wednesday night on the road, and with a hard-fought shutout the team earned it.

Following Saturday's home result where the team gave up a one-goal lead late to Houston Dynamo (Houston found the equalizer in the 89th minute to draw 2-2), the circumstances were set up to repeat a few days later at Audi Field. A brilliant finish from Thiago Almada gave Atlanta United a one-goal lead heading into the final 10 minutes of regulation. Down a goal in what was already a hard-fought match, D.C. United came flying in, looking for the equalizer, and it seemed like their aggressive attack might pay off.

But it didn't. Not this time.

Atlanta United, behind their big, bald wall of a goalkeeper, veteran Brad Guzan, held strong and denied multiple chances for D.C. United, including a flying stop by Guzan to stop what would've been the equalizer from D.C.'s leading scorer Christian Benteke. The 5-Stripes won the match 1-0.

The performance was one of the strongest collective defensive efforts of the season. For the result, Atlanta United departs the nation's capital with three points and the team's second straight road win.

For his heroic late effort and four saves on the night, the league rewarded Guzan with a spot on the midweek edition of MLS Team of the Matchday, which was announced Thursday afternoon. It's the first time this season the 39-year-old has been granted the honor.

"Brad is an amazing character off the field, and I don't mean that in a funny way, but he's just great," interim head coach Rob Valentino said after the match. "He's been very consistent in that and how he leads, how he is as a person and I think on the field, he's just come up in the moment where we really needed him. That's a testament to the group that when you're needed, and your name's called, you have to do your job."

The result was the fourth clean sheet of the season for Guzan and the first since the scoreless draw in Chicago on April 27.

The veteran goalkeeper got some assistance from a starting backline of five that Valentino implemented. The starters consisted of Derrick Williams, Efraín Morales and Noah Cobb as the three center backs. Brooks Lennon and Caleb Wiley filled in on the wings.

This group of five included three Homegrowns -- Morales, Cobb and Wiley. And the young cohort of defenders played superbly against one of the league's best scorers Christian Benteke, who entered Wedneday's matchup three goals off the leader in the Golden Boot race.

Last time the two teams met back in May, Benteke scored a hat trick. This time around on Wednesday night, Guzan and his backline did everything they could to keep him off the scoresheet.

Even the attackers stepped up to be involved in the defending.

"We all have to do our part," said Almada, who was named to the bench for MLS Team of the Matchday. "We're playing 11 guys on the field. Today, we came with a back-five, which the coach decided to play, and I think it worked out well. We just did our best."

The win in D.C. could prove to be a spark to re-energize Atlanta United's season. Entering Wednesday's contest, Atlanta United was 13th in the Eastern Conference standings. Those three points earned Wednesday lifted Atlanta United all the way to ninth place, for the moment above the playoff line, and nine points off from the current top four.

"The challenge is we’ve seen something in the group that we think we’ve been trying to pull out... it is something that hopefully is that spark," Valentino said. "That's going to be my challenge to them, and to us as a group, that we continue on this path. They're exhausted in there, and they should be. That's what it should feel like to try to win a game and be competitive, especially on the road. That's not easy."

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