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Tools to the Match: How ATL UTD can get back to winning ways

Atlanta United (9-8-3) are right back in action after this weekend’s road match in Seattle, hosting Western Conference side the Houston Dynamo (8-8-3) at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Wednesday. The Dynamo come in on a bit of a skid with just one win in their past six matches, and with the Five Stripes on a run of eight wins and just one loss in their last nine matches at home, they’ll be hoping a return home equates to a return to form in their pursuit of Eastern Conference glory.

Ahead of the interconference matchup, we broke down the Tools to the Match, presented by The Home Depot:

Track the Runners

The Houston Dynamo may be out of form in the results column, but they have the pieces in attack to threaten any defense in this league. Left winger Alberth Elis is one of the most dynamic attackers in the league, with his electric pace and his ability to finish or set up his teammates with a final ball as good as any in the league. But he’s not their only weapon. Joining him in the attack is his international teammate, Honduran Rommel Quioto and Colombian Mauro Manotas, whose 19 goals last year was one of the best tallies in the league. They’re as dynamic of an attacking trio as there is in this league, and they will be trying to use their off-ball movement to pull Atlanta United’s defenders out of position. Any success on Wednesday will have to start with the Five Stripes’ ability to shut down one of the most explosive attacking trios in the league.

Keep the Ball in Front

The best way to slow down Houston’s pacey attack is to keep the ball in front of the defense. Atlanta United will always be an attacking side, but it’s key that they don’t get too stretched out on the forward end looking for a goal. Houston is at their best when they can stretch their legs on the counter-attack –– and the Five Stripes only have to look back at the fixture between these two sides last year in Houston to know what happens when Houston stretches out your defense. Being tidy with the ball in the back and keeping defensive discipline and their tactical shape will be key for Atlanta as they look to limit Houston’s ability to get a head of steam running at their back line. If they can keep bodies behind the ball, they can force Houston to operate in tight spaces instead of on the run where they like to be.

Spread out the Opponent

Much of the same thing can be said going the other direction. Houston has an experienced back line, but one that has struggled to keep up with dynamic attacks coming back at them. If Atlanta United can turn their defensive pressure into turnovers and then use those opportunities to get the ball in transition, they can attack the Houston defense while they’re on their heels before they get back into position. Only three goalkeepers have been forced into more saves than Houston’s Joe Willis this year –– so the opportunities to score will come. With Josef Martinez netting nine goals in his last six matches, Atlanta United has a red-hot scorer on their side of the ball. Finding him an inch of space by keeping the defense spread out will make it easier for him to keep his streak alive and help push the Five Stripes to victory.

Follow Along:

The match is set to kick off Wednesday at 7 p.m. EST from Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, and you can watch the match on Fox Sports South. Tickets are available here, and for more details on how to follow along from home, click here.