Match Preview: Atlanta United at D.C. United

A massive match in Atlanta United’s season this weekend as they aim to keep pace with the top of the Supporters’ Shield standing. With a win on Sunday officially clinching a playoff berth for the team, they will be hoping to ride their momentum into another three points against D.C. United. The Five Stripes have lost just once since mid-May, but the Red Bulls have inched ahead on points, having played one match more. Atlanta United will have to be at their best to reclaim the top spot, in their first trip to the brand new Audi Field in the nation’s capital.

The match is set to kick off at 7:30 p.m. EST Sunday from Washington, D.C. For those who can’t make the trip, tune in on Fox Sports 1 or stream the match live via the Fox Sports GO App. Click here for all the other ways to follow along with the match.

Atlanta United (16-4-6)

Coming off back-to-back wins against the Columbus Crew and Orlando City, Atlanta United control their destiny in their quest for the Supporters’ Shield. That’s due in large part to the unbelievable scoring form of Josef Martinez, whose game-winner against Orlando City last week set him apart, alone atop the record books with 28 goals so far this season. It was a ninth straight match with a goal for the Venezuelan, and one more this week would clinch yet another MLS record as the longest scoring streak in MLS history. But if anything he will be more relaxed this weekend, as he and Coach Martino both pointing out after last week’s match that putting the record behind him will only take a load of pressure off of his back.

But behind him sits maybe the best creators in the country, with Julian Gressel, Miguel Almirón and Tito Villalba combining for 29 assists between them so far this year. And with Ezequiel Barco making his return to the starting lineup last weekend, Tata Martino has an embarrassment of attacking riches to call on this time around. Countering the skill with steel in the middle is the ever-reliable Jeff Larentowicz and Argentinian Eric Remedi, who has stepped in without missing a step since his move to the club this Summer.

But like all balanced teams, Atlanta United’s flair players up top are only effective if they’re built on a solid foundation in the back. Michael Parkhurst, Leandro González Pirez, Franco Escobar and Chris McCann are the rock, and with U.S international Brad Guzan behind, have only conceded fewer goals than all but two teams so far this season. With an average of just one goal conceded per game over the last twelve matches, they are hitting their stride at the right time as the team enters the final stretch of the regular season. If they put it all together, a win would send them into the postseason, but with bigger ambitions on their mind, it will be crucial to keep pace with the top of the pack in the standings.

D.C. United (7-6-11)

After a slow start to the season, the introduction of Wayne Rooney to the D.C. United attacking line gave them a jolt of energy as they began their climb in their push for a playoff spot. But much like Atlanta United last year, a back-heavy schedule means a fixture congestion that is starting to show in the D.C. results. Their loss to the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday was their second in a row and a major hit to their playoff hopes. But that could only make them more determined this weekend as they scrap for whatever points they can to get into the postseason.

Wayne Rooney has added class to their front line, but has also seemingly unlocked a new level for D.C. United’s creative midfielder Luciano Acosta. With more room to show his elite touch, dribbling and creative passing, the Argentine has been on fire in the middle part of D.C.’s season. A U.S. international in Paul Arriola will add pace and service to the right wing, and it could be a familiar face lining up on the other side, with former Atlanta United winger Yamil Asad hoping to return from injury in time to face his former club.

Providing the balance is the young but promising pair of Russell Canouse and Junior Moreno in central midfield, while U.S. international Steve Birnbaum is the standout in a defense that has given the Five Stripes trouble in the past. That’s especially true of the man in goal, Bill Hamid, who seemed to always perform against Atlanta last year, who has returned to D.C. after an offseason move to Norway.

It’s a strong team still fighting for their chance in the playoffs, but with Atlanta United 3-1 victors in each of their past two meetings, the Five Stripes will be confident in their chances of officially claiming a playoff spot. Tune in to Fox Sports GO at 7:30 p.m. EST on Sunday. For streaming information and all other ways to follow along with the match, click here.