Things to watch in Atlanta United vs. D.C. United

Credit: Mitchell Martin/Atlanta United

Credit: Mitchell Martin/Atlanta United

Atlanta United is about to get its first week off since training camp started Jan. 8.

Manager Gonzalo Pineda said it would like to go into these days off with the good feeling that will come with earning three points Saturday should the team defeat D.C. United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“We just want to finish strong at home against D.C.,” he said. “And then we can have some mental rest because it feels like since January, the preseason, that now we’re in June and playing a row of games, everybody, not just the players, but the staff, everyone in the building needs a bit of a mental break to come back stronger.”

Through 17 of the 34 regular-season games, Atlanta United is close to being on pace to President Garth Lagerwey’s goal of hosting a playoff game. The team is 6-4-7, 25 points, two behind New England for fourth in the East. A win against D.C. United, and a draw or loss by New England against Miami, would push Atlanta United into fourth.

Here are things to watch Saturday:

1. Who will start on the wings? Luiz Araujo has three games remaining before he leaves for Flamengo. Wednesday’s 3-3 draw at LAFC was the 10th match this season in which Araujo has failed to put a shot on goal. Considering his lack of production this season, with two goals and three assists, it may be time to start phasing him out of the lineup and phasing in the players who will take over at right wing when he leaves. Looking at left wing, Derrick Etienne has yet to score in 15 appearances. Pineda has options. He can move to Etienne to the right and put Caleb Wiley, who has as many goal contributions (two goals, three assists) as Araujo, at left wing. Or, Pineda simply can give both a rest and start Homegrown signees Tyler Wolff and Machop Chol for a few games in order for the franchise to see if the players have a future as starters, or if they are backups, which is how they have been used.

2. Who will start in the midfield? Atlanta United midfielders Franco Ibarra, Matheus Rosseto and Thiago Almada had great difficulty advancing the ball through LAFC’s press Wednesday. Pineda said the issues sometimes were poor decisions, sometimes poor movements and sometimes both. The team has looked better when Almada, Ibarra and Amar Sejdic were the central midfielders. Ibarra and Sejdic are healthy for the first time in the past five matches.

3. Breaking a streak. Atlanta United has one win in its past seven matches and four consecutive draws. Allowing late goals cost it points in draws against Chicago and New England as part of that streak of ties. Conversely, it scored a late goal to draw Orlando, and Brad Guzan’s heroics saved another point against LAFC. Things seem to even out.

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Atlanta United’s 2023 MLS schedule

Feb. 25 Atlanta United 2, San Jose Earthquakes 1

March 4 Atlanta United 1, Toronto FC 1

March 11 Atlanta United 3, Charlotte FC 0

March 18 Atlanta United 5, Portland 1

March 25 Columbus 6, Atlanta United 1

April 1 Atlanta United 1, New York Red Bulls 0

April 8 Atlanta United 1, New York City FC 1

April 15 Atlanta United 2, Toronto FC 2

April 23 Atlanta United 2, Chicago 1

April 29 Nashville SC 3, Atlanta United 1

May 6 Inter Miami CF 2, Atlanta United 1

May 13 Charlotte 3, Atlanta United 1

May 17 Atlanta United 4, Colorado 0

May 20 Atlanta United 3, Chicago 3

May 27 Atlanta United 1, Orlando 1

May 31 Atlanta United 3, New England 3

June 7 Atlanta United 0, LAFC 0

June 10 vs. D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

June 21 vs. New York City FC, 7:30 p.m.

June 24 at New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

July 2 vs. Philadelphia Union, 4 p.m., Fox

July 8 at CF Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

July 12 at New England Revolution, 7:30 p.m.

July 15 vs. Orlando City SC, 7:30 p.m., FS1

July 25 at Miami in Leagues Cup, 7:30 p.m.

July 29 vs. Cruz Azul in Leagues Cup, 8 p.m.

Aug. 20 at Seattle Sounders, 10:30 p.m.

Aug. 26 vs. Nashville SC, 7:30 p.m.

Aug. 30 vs. FC Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 2 at FC Dallas, 8:30 p.m.

Sept. 16 vs. Inter Miami CF, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 20 at D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 23 vs. CF Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 4 at Philadelphia Union, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 7 vs. Columbus Crew, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 21 at FC Cincinnati, TBA