Defeating D.C. United likely wasn’t among the many anticipated firsts for Atlanta United during its inaugural season.
But, after two losses to what arguably is the worst team in MLS, the Five Stripes will try again Wednesday at RFK Stadium.
Much is at stake.
Atlanta United (10-7-5) hasn’t played since tying Sporting KC on Aug. 6. Since then, the New York Red Bulls, Columbus and Montreal have played at least two games each and passed the Five Stripes in the Eastern Conference standings, moving into fourth, fifth and sixth and pushing Atlanta United into seventh. The team has at least two games in hand, and therefore the opportunity to grab six points, on every one of the teams it is chasing.
After playing in Washington D.C., on Wednesday the team will have a short turnaround and play at Philadelphia on Saturday. The Union are long shots to make the playoffs, but are good enough to cause havoc in the race.
“It’s unrealistic to think we can win out, from here on out. Point blank. It just won’t happen,” Atlanta United captain Michael Parkhurst said. “But we are in a good spot in terms of points per game (1.59). (These are) both winnable games, and both games we want to win.”
The team took advantage of the break to fine-tune its tactics, according to Yamil Asad, and to get healthy. Manager Gerardo Martino said everyone except for goalkeeper Alec Kann (quad) and Andrew Carleton and Chris Goslin (both are training with the U.S. U17 men’s national team) should be available for selection.
D.C. United (6-15-4) has beaten Atlanta United twice by taking advantage of its few opportunities on offense, and goalkeeper Bill Hamid on defense.
Hamid made six saves, including several in a frantic first 15 minutes in which Atlanta United peppered his goal, in his team’s 3-1 win at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Atlanta United had 26 shots to D.C. United’s nine in that meeting April 30, but each matched the other with seven on target.
“They are a really physical team,” Atlanta United midfielder Carlos Carmona said. “The first game we played at home if we could have finished some of the chances it would have been a different result.”
It was the same result but a different story in D.C. United’s 2-1 win June 21 at RFK Stadium. Atlanta United looked lethargic as D.C. United took 17 shots to its 15. Though Atlanta United put five on target to D.C. United’s four, the team from the nation’s Capitol looked much more dangerous throughout.
“The game in D.C. I don’t think we ever got comfortable and turnovers kind of cost us,” midfielder Jeff Larentowicz said. “Eliminating those this week will be important.”
Adding to the challenge, this won’t be the same D.C. United team that has given Atlanta United so much trouble.
The team shed several players, including trading centerback Bobby Boswell to Atlanta United, and added midfielder/forward Paul Arriola, a recent U.S. men’s national team regular, forward Bruno Miranda, midfielder/forward Zoltan Stieber and midfielder Russell Canouse. Arriola and Canouse played complete games in last week’s 1-0 win at Colorado.
The changing personnel will make winning this game more of a challenge for Atlanta United, according to the players.
“It makes it a little more uncertain,” Larentowicz said. “At same time, they are trying to make it all work. I’m sure they are feeling the same thing. We are the same team, going in there trying to get the job done.”