Things learned in Atlanta United’s win over D.C. United

Atlanta United defender Caleb Wiley #26 dribbles during the first half of the match against the D.C. United at Audi Field in Washington,  on Wednesday June 19, 2024. (Photo by Mitch Martin/Atlanta United)

Credit: Mitch Martin/Atlanta United

Credit: Mitch Martin/Atlanta United

Atlanta United defender Caleb Wiley #26 dribbles during the first half of the match against the D.C. United at Audi Field in Washington, on Wednesday June 19, 2024. (Photo by Mitch Martin/Atlanta United)

WASHINGTON — Atlanta United, a team that had AAA on speed dial because of its road issues, may have figured out how to play away from Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The Five Stripes’ 1-0 win at D.C. United on Wednesday was its second consecutive on the road, where it improved to 2-3-3 this season. It has nine points from eight away matches, well above the average of a point-per-road match that is the goal of most teams.

Atlanta United will go for three consecutive when it plays at St. Louis on Saturday.

“We’ll stay in the moment, we’ll enjoy this right now and really reflect on what we did right, what the next game will give us,” interim manager Rob Valentino said. “As a staff, as a group we’ll figure out how we’ll go and attack it, but I told them today in there, ‘No complacency.’ You can’t be complacent, and there should be no fear of failure. We go after each game for the same outcome. We always want to win games, so that’ll be no different, and we’ll just make sure there’s no complacency in the group. That starts with us, the staff.”

Atlanta United didn’t bludgeon D.C. United like it did Miami in its previous road win. The stats showed that D.C. United finished with more shots (19) and expected goals (2.7-1.0). But Atlanta United’s defense, led by Derrick Williams and Brad Guzan, who were immense in the final moments with a key block and save, held back D.C. United long enough for Thiago Almada to create a memory with a 25-yard strike in the 79th minute.

“I think it was very important because it served to win, but I think the work of the team was very important and that we deserved this win,” Almada said.

The kids. Atlanta United had five Homegrown signees on the field by game’s end. That’s believed to tie for the most used by the club in one MLS match. Three, Noah Cobb, Efrain Morales and Caleb Wiley, started and helped neutralize D.C. United’s Christian Benteke, who scored a hat trick of headers in the teams’ previous meeting this season. Jay Fortune and Luke Brennan subbed on in the second half.

“I just think it’s a testament to the club, I think you see that these kids really feel like a part of it,” Valentino said. “Efra and these guys have been with the club since they were kids, and they feel pride in putting that jersey on and being able to defend something like that. I think that’s really cool for me to see them grow and be with the club in a good moment like that.”

Morales may have surprised Benteke, who is used to winning most aerial duals, by outjumping and winning the first contest in the first half. Benteke tried to go at Morales, 20 years old, throughout the night. Morales didn’t back down. He kept his body on Benteke throughout, which is advice Cobb provided before the match. Benteke got across him for a header only once, and it was a soft effort hit into the ground that Guzan easily saved.

Cobb said that compared with their first match, when he was isolated on Benteke as part of a four-man back line, having three centerbacks as part of a five-man back line helped Wednesday.

“Having that extra body in there really helps,” he said.

Almada. Almada’s long-range strike may be the moment he needed to find a groove. The goal was his fifth, moving him into the team lead.

It was the type of goal that Almada regularly scored last season when he finished third in MVP voting.

“It was really big,” Cobb said. “He’s a superstar in this league, and I think he’s going to have moments like that, and then it’s up to us defenders to hold them goal-less. As a defender, knowing that your attacking players can go win you the game like that, it gives you a lot of confidence to defend.”

The only unfortunate part of the night for Almada was he received his fifth yellow card this season and must miss Saturday’s match because of accumulation.

Playoff picture. The win, combined with other results, moved Atlanta United from 13th in the East into ninth. It is three points eighth-place Nashville, and looking way ahead nine points behind fourth-place NYCFC.

Excepting second-place Cincinnati, Atlanta United has matches remaining against each team ahead of it, including two against the Red Bulls, who are in third.

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Atlanta United’s 2024 schedule

Feb. 24 Columbus 1, Atlanta United 0

March 9 Atlanta United 4, New England 1

March 17 Atlanta United 2, Orlando 0

March 23 Toronto 2, Atlanta United 0

March 31 Atlanta United 3, Chicago 0

April 6 Atlanta United 1, NYCFC 1

April 14 Atlanta United 2, Philadelphia 2

April 20 Cincinnati 2, Atlanta United 1

April 27 Atlanta United 1, Chicago 1

May 4 Minnesota 2, Atlanta United 1

May 7 Atlanta United 3, Charlotte Independence 0 in U.S. Open Cup

May 11 D.C. United 3, Atlanta United 2

May 15 Cincinnati 1, Atlanta United 0

May 18 Atlanta United 1, Nashville 1

May 21 Atlanta United 0 (5), Charleston 0 (4) in U.S. Open Cup

May 25 LAFC 1, Atlanta United 0

May 29 Atlanta United 3, Miami 1

June 2 Charlotte 3, Atlanta United 2

June 15 Atlanta United 2, Houston 2

June 19 Atlanta United 1, D.C. United 0

June 22 at St. Louis, 8:30 p.m.

June 29 vs. Toronto, 7:30 p.m.

July 3 at New England, 7:30 p.m.

July 6 at Real Salt Lake, 9:30 p.m.

July 9 vs. Indy Eleven in U.S. Open Cup

July 13 at Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

July 17 vs. NYCFC, 7:30 p.m.

July 20 vs. Columbus, 7:30 p.m.

July 26 vs. D.C. United in Leagues Cup, 7:30 p.m.

Aug. 4 vs. Santos Laguna in Leagues Cup, 4 p.m.

Aug. 24 at L.A. Galaxy, 10:30 p.m.

Aug. 31 at Charlotte, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 14 vs. Nashville, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 18 vs. Miami, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 21 at Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 28 at Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 2 vs. Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 5 vs. Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 19 at Orlando, 6 p.m.