Match Preview: Atlanta United at D.C. United

It’s been a wild week for Atlanta United, overturning a two-goal deficit versus CS Herediano in the Concacaf Champions League and advancing to the quarterfinals, but there’s no time for celebration as they kick off the 2019 MLS Regular Season in the nation’s capital on Sunday. The reigning MLS Champions will hope to start their new chapter right, but have to face a D.C. United team they’ve never beaten before in the District.

Major League Soccer is back in action and the Five Stripes will defend their crown against a team that’s proven to be a tough nut to crack. Make sure to tune in Sunday at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN and for all the other ways to follow the match, click here.

Atlanta United (0-0-0)

Atlanta United come off a stellar 2018 season, finishing with the second-best regular season record in MLS history and a dominant postseason run to earn the club’s first MLS Cup. But a new season is a clean slate for all clubs, even for the champions as new head coach Frank de Boer replaces Tata Martino at the helm, looking to bring his own history of hardware to his new club.

In addition to Martino’s departure, Miguel Almirón’s transfer to Newcastle United left another void to fill for the Five Stripes, but the club again found an exciting replacement in Argentine phenom Gonzalo “Pity” Martínez. Copa Libertadores Champion and the reigning South American Player of the Year, Pity possesses the skill, vision and intelligence to take over any game from the center of the park. Just from preseason play and the opening round of their Champions League competition, it’s clear Atlanta United will maintain their fluid, attacking style of play with yet another gifted player pulling the strings.

But perhaps even more importantly than the new signings, the club was able to hold on to the core of its roster. The biggest news in the offseason was the long-term contract extension of the 2018 MLS MVP and Golden Boot winner Josef Martinez, and his record-breaking 31 goals last season will have the home fans excited for what’s to come in 2019. In addition to the return of their front man, U.S. international Brad Guzan still stands between the sticks, Leandro González Pirez and captain Michael Parkhurst lead the squad from the back line and Eric Remedi, Jeff Larentowicz and Darlington Nagbe all provide stability in the midfield, while Ezequiel Barco’s craft and Tito Villalba’s pace bring a deadly dynamic to the attack. The team’s depth will be more critical than ever as they begin their 2019 campaign in the midst of their Champions League run.

D.C. United (0-0-0)

D.C. United may not be entering 2019 with a championship in hand, but they are coming off one of their most promising seasons in the last decade. Out of the playoff race for most of the first half off 2018, Ben Olsen rallied his squad at their new home of Audi Field as they surged up the standings and finished fourth in the East. And though their playoff hopes ended disappointingly on penalties, their surging form to finish the season gave D.C. United fans hope that there are even bigger milestones ahead in the near future.

The opening of Audi Field certainly sparked the revival of Black & Red fan base, but a massive part of their on-field performance uptick was the arrival of England international and Manchester United legend Wayne Rooney. In just half a season with the club, the striker tallied 12 goals and 7 assists and found himself constantly involved in game-changing plays that pushed their magical run to the playoffs. Even at the age of 33, Rooney has proven he’s still got plenty of class and his scoring instincts have not dwindled. After his impact during his brief stint last year, there’s no telling what he will be able to do with a full season ahead of him.

But Rooney is only one piece of the D.C. puzzle; there to complete the attacking trio are Argentine playmaker Luciano Acosta – who broke out last season with 10 goals and 17 assists – and the nifty, pacey U.S. international Paul Arriola who also tacked on 7 goals and 8 assists. Couple that deadly trio with a strong spine of Russel Canouse, Steve Birnbaum and Bill Hamid from midfield to goal and you have a team ready for another impressive run in 2019. And there could be a familiar face, with former Atlanta United defender Chris McCann possibly lining up against his former team after signing for D.C in the offseason.

It’s shaping up to be quite the opener on Sunday night in the District, so make sure to tune in on ESPN at 6 p.m. ET as Atlanta United kicks off the 2019 MLS season. For more details on how to follow the match, click here.