Atlanta United faces must-win game against D.C. United

Atlanta United defeated D.C. United 4-0 on Saturday in MLS action.
Atlanta United defeated D.C. United 4-0 on Saturday in MLS action.

Credit: MLS

Credit: MLS

Atlanta United has faced a few must-win games this season.

It hasn’t done well in any.

That’s why it faces yet another Saturday when it hosts D.C. United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Atlanta United is in 11th place in the East. D.C. United is in 14th, or last, place. Ten teams will make the playoffs. There are four games remaining. Atlanta United will be favored to win only one of those four, against Cincinnati.

That’s why it must pick up all three points Saturday to even keep pace with 10th-place Chicago, which leads the Five Stripes by one point, and Montreal, which it trails by four, and stay ahead of Inter Miami, which it leads by one point, and Cincinnati, which it leads by three.

“We know what’s at stake,” interim manager Stephen Glass said. “We know our position on the table and know there are 12 points left. We need to get every one of them, and it starts on Saturday.”

Despite an offseason overhaul that included adding former Atlanta United players Julian Gressel and Yamil Asad, D.C. United has struggled all season, including a 4-0 loss to the Five Stripes at Audi Field. The club let go of coach Ben Olsen two weeks ago at the end of a stretch of winning only one of its previous 14 games. It started Chad Ashton’s interim tenure with a loss but it is currently experience a new manager bump with four points from its past two games. It trails Atlanta United by four points, and it could be argued that if it wins Saturday, it has pulled itself into the conversation for the final playoff spot.

“They look a little bit more intense, a little bit more aggressive,” Glass said. “A bit of freshness there. That’s what happens when a manager changes. But we are aware of threat they carry and aware how we can hurt them.”

Despite its recent uptick in good fortune, D.C. United still has one of the worst offenses and defenses in the East. Its 17 goals scored are second fewest and its 33 goals allowed are second most.

In Atlanta United’s favor is stopping teams hasn’t been much of an issue. In previous must-win games that Atlanta United lost, it allowed one goal to each team in the MLS tournament, one in a recent loss to the Red Bulls and one in a recent draw with Miami. It has allowed just 22 goals in 19 games.

What Atlanta United hasn’t been able to do is score. It has put just one shot on goal in each of the past three games and was shut out in three of the past four. It has scored just 18 in league games this season.

The team should get a spark with the return of Designated Players Ezequiel Barco and Marcelino Moreno. Both came on as second-half subs in the 1-0 loss to Toronto in Atlanta United’s previous game. Moreno offers speed centrally and Barco, who missed the previous seven games, creativity on the flanks that the team hasn’t consistently displayed.

Another boost will be the return of a small group of supporters in the building for just the second time this season. Glass said he thinks the players will feed off whatever energy they can provide.

“Hopefully we can give them joy and win because we need to win this game,” Barco said.

Atlanta United coming games

Saturday vs. D.C. United (2-5-5), 4 p.m., FSSE

Wednesday at Orlando (6-2-4), 7:30 p.m., FS1

Nov. 1 vs. Cincinnati (3-6-3), 7 p.m., FSSE

Nov. 8 at Columbus (8-1-3), 3:30 p.m., FSSE

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