Atlanta United (12-4-5) are looking to keep their lead at the top of the Eastern Conference as they host D.C. United (3-7-5) at Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the second time this season. Last year D.C. took all nine points in their three matchups, but Atlanta took the best of their first match in 2018 and they will hope to make it two for two this Saturday. While they sit on opposite ends of the table, D.C. have some new faces, a new home and plenty of games ahead to get themselves back into playoff contention, so expect Saturday to be a rowdy one.
Ahead of this weekend’s game, we broke down the Tools to the Match presented by The Home Depot.
1) Seek Out #7
It may seem obvious at this point for Atlanta United to find #7 up front with his current historic scoring rate of 38 goals in 38 starts over the last two seasons, but he really is a key in their league-leading ability to find the back of the net – even if for a moment he’s marked, seems static or out of the play. The Venezuelan international leads the Golden Boot race with 19 goals, seven more than anyone in the league this season and they’re not results of the same situation. His finishing is pristine but his movement is even better. He can beat you with pace or a clever touch, he can drag defenders with him only to then spin off into space, he can leap over anyone in the back line no matter how tall – as we saw last week when he won an aerial duel over two Sounders defenders to score the equalizer. No matter how well-contained the opposition may think they have him, he’s as hungry as they come, and Atlanta must feed him.
2) Crowd the Creators
With Rooney now on the roster the D.C. front line could have a new look come Saturday, but there are no doubts that their primary creators will remain the same. Former Atlanta United midfielder Yamil Asad is enjoying a quality stint in his first year at D.C., averaging 0.8 goals+assists per 90. (He averaged 0.66 goals+assists per 90 with Atlanta United in 2017). In addition to Asad, fellow Argentine Luciano Acosta brings creativity, quickness and a clever mind to the midfield meanwhile U.S. international Paul Arriola brings energy, pace, and an eye for the penetrating pass. All three have combined for 16 assists this season, so expect them to be picking out whoever it may be up front whether it’s joint leading goal scorer Darren Mattocks or their big money front man in Wayne Rooney. Keeping the ball off the feet of Asad, Acosta and Arriola will be vital in stopping the D.C. attack and recording a clean sheet Saturday.
3) Score Early, Score First
With 43 on the season, Atlanta United leads the league in goals, and they’ve been particularly hot as of late. The Five Stripes have scored in 11 consecutive MLS matches, marking their franchise record, meanwhile D.C. have recorded one clean sheet all season and their win last weekend snapped a five-game winless run that saw them concede multiple goals in four of the five games. If Atlanta can capitalize early and score first in front of a packed house at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, they’ll put themselves in a good position to pile on the scoring against a team that’s been notorious for conceding. Scoring first is crucial as last week’s game showed how tough it can be to go down early and play against a side tactically strategizing to stall and disrupt the Five Stripes attack.
Follow the Match:
Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. EST on Saturday, with the match set to be broadcast on Univision and streamed on Twitter. You can listen to the game on the Atlanta United app or through one of our radio partners: 92.9 The Game or, for Spanish-speaking listeners, La Mejor Atlanta. Click here for a full rundown of how to follow along with the game.