Tools to the Match: How Atlanta picks up three crucial points on Saturday

Atlanta United closes out its three-match homestand with an important match against D.C. United on Saturday afternoon at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The 5-Stripes trail D.C. United by one point in the standings coming into the weekend, and this match could prove critical in the push for the playoffs. The 5-Stripes are also looking for the season series sweep over the team from the nation’s capital after winning the first match at Audi Field 2-1 in late August. Let’s take a look at the Tools to the Match presented by The Home Depot.

Keep firing on all cylinders

Atlanta United’s attack has produced seven goals in its last two matches. New signing Luiz Araújo got on the scoresheet for the first time in the 4-0 win against FC Cincinnati midweek. Josef Martinez marked his 100th MLS Regular Season appearance with his 21st career multi-goal game. Ezequiel Barco also was on fire as he scored a direct free kick, the first for Atlanta United since 2018.

Barco has been taking advantage of the freedom that head coach Gonzalo Pineda has given him since taking over. The Argentine is having his best season statistically since joining the 5-Stripes with six goals and five assists already. His form in the games is a product of how he has performed in training according to his coach.

"He goes and performs in every training session the same way that you just saw. Scoring goals, counter pressing, running in behind, creating chances for his team. And that’s what amazes me about Barco. He’s very hungry,” said Pineda in the post-match press conference on Wednesday. “I think he has a very high ceiling. I don’t think we are seeing the best Barco, but what we are seeing now is very good.”

Watch out for Ola Kamara

D.C. United’s top striker has been in excellent form all season and especially as of late. He’s scored five goals in the last three matches, including a hat-trick in the 3-0 win vs. Chicago Fire FC on Wednesday night. Kamara leads MLS with 16 goals on the season. Atlanta United’s defense will need to keep a close eye on Kamara at all times on Saturday afternoon. The 5-Stripes are looking for a third consecutive clean sheet, something they haven’t done since May 2019.

Finding the right balance

As Atlanta United’s attack has flourished over the last several weeks, Coach Pineda has placed an emphasis on finding the right balance to stay strong defensively. Through the first three matches of Pineda’s tenure, Atlanta United has only faced 10 shots on target, which is tied for the 3rd fewest in MLS in the time frame. The team also boasts one of the highest tackle success rates in all of MLS at 62.4% this season (3rd-best in MLS). That balance will be key as the 5-Stripes look to make a strong push down the stretch of the regular season.

Kickoff for Saturday afternoon’s clash is set for 3:30 p.m. ET at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Fans can tune in nationally on Univision or TUDN to watch on TV or listen to the radio broadcast at Sports Radio 92.9 The Game.