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Atlanta United FC vs DC United Game Preview


The Managers: 


Atlanta United FC - Gonzalo Pineda

The former Mexican player and coach signed with Atlanta United in August of 202.  He is  Atlanta United’s fourth head coach in their history. DC United fans might remember that Pineda was heavily considered by the Black & Red as the man to replace Ben Olsen as Head Coach. Reports suggested that negotiations were well along when they ultimately fell through. 

As Head Coach of Atlanta United FC, Gonzalo Pineda has had mixed results since taking the helm of the Five Stripes. Atlanta made the playoffs last year, but haven’t reached the heights or the consistency they did in their first few years when they were the class of MLS. This means Pineda has found himself under a bit of scrutiny recently. 

As a member of the Seattle coaching staff, Pineda was seen as being instrumental in the Sounder’s success. Notably, his tactical approach was said to have played a key role in Seattle’s three MLS Cup appearances, including their championship win in 2019. His arrival in Atlanta brought excitement, as fans expected that he would be able to implement a soccer strategy that would harken back to the days when Tata Martino roamed the sideline.

On paper, Pineda is a cultural and technical fit that aligns with Atlanta United’s vision, but reality hasn’t yet been there, if he can’t show progress this season, it might be Pineda’s last hurrah with the Five Stripes.


DC United - Troy Lesesne: 

DC United’s young Head Coach has done a fairly impressive job getting the Black & Red prepared for their road games. Only the trip to City Field for their game against NYCFC, has United been outplayed, and that was with a number of key players absent.

Lesesne’s tactical approach and player-centric management style begun to change the culture with DC United players and fans. His coaching philosophy is predicated on two key factors: strategic use of high-pressing intensity and quick turnovers leading to attacking intent. Now it needs to lead to more goals. United continue to lead the league in XG, but need to do better in scoring.

Lesesne emphasizes the importance of showing the right attitude and determination, especially after a disappointing draw with the Philadelphia Union. His message was for his team to focus on the positives they showed against Philly. There were m


Preview: 

DC United travel south to take on the Five Stripes this weekend at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The two teams find themselves in a closely contested battle for playoff position in the Eastern Conference. Without a win in five MLS matches, Atlanta now sits two points below the Black & Red in the standings.


Atlanta did pick up a win on Wednesday against Charlotte Independence in the U.S. Open Cup, because of course they get to play in the Open Cup, but that was a heavily rotated team. Prior to that, Atlanta lost 1-2 to Minnesota United at home. It was a game that looking at the stat line, Atlanta should have won, or at least drawn, but Minnesota made the most of their opportunities while Atlanta didn’t.


This game will not be easy for DC United, because despite their recent run of form, and their standing in the table, Atlanta has only shipped eleven goals, one of the best tallies in MLS. DC will therefore need to make their shots count. They still have a tendency to not capitalize on opportunities. Atlanta will give them fewer chances so they must make their shots count.


This match could have significant implications for both teams in their hopes for making the playoffs at the end of the season and setting the team narrative going into the summer months.



Keys to the Match: 


Can DC keep Atlanta down? 

The Black & Red sit just above Atlanta in the Eastern Conference However their form hasn’t been strong, and DC United could keep them below them in the standings with a win or a draw.


The Five Stripes have only five goals during their five-game winless run in MLS, which United will want to extend. Bono and his back line have played really well, but they have not been able to keep clean sheets. Going up against the likes of Thiago Almada, Saba Lobjanidze, and Giorgos Giakoumakis means that there will be chances, especially if DC give up dangerous set pieces.


The Eastern Conference is going to be a tight race, with the fifth through eleventh spot separated by three points. Atlanta and DC are very similar teams in what they have shown so far on the pitch. Getting a point on the road would be good, all three points would be great and really help them towards respectability in MLS.


Can DC break the Atlanta defense?  

Atlanta United Goalkeeper Brad Guzan was supposed to have been relegated to the bench this season, and the Five Stripes defense was supposed to take a step back with Miles Robinson having left for FC Cincinnati, yet Atlanta’s defense has been the strength of the team.


All season DC has been near the top of MLS in XG, yet they are middling when it comes to actual goals scoring. A lot of it is due to poor decision-making in the final third, while another aspect is that players have not taken shots when they’ve had the opportunity.  DC players not named Benteke need to find a better balance of well placed passing and willingness to shoot when in the final third.


If other DC United players like Jacob Murrell and Ted Ku-DiPietro can step up and be consistent scoring threats, DC will have much more success.

If DC is to get a result in Atlanta, it will need to make its opportunities count.


Can DC keep Thiago Almada from playing to his potential? 

Thiago Almada exploded onto the MLS scene last season when he scored twice in the final minutes against San Jose, after being on the Argentinian World Cup Championship team, and being only 23, Almada has been seen as the next young phenom who will move to Europe. It’s probably because of the financial straits of many European clubs, that Almada is still a part of the Five Stripes.


That he’s still playing in MLS may be one of the reasons he’s not quite having the impact that he did last year. This year the young attacking midfielder has struggled to really find his game. He’s not been bad, but he’s not been magic. Prior to Messi’s arrival, an argument could have been made that Almada was the best player in MLS; this year he’s a great player, but he hasn’t been elite.


That could change if DC isn’t on their game. Almada’s especially dangerous on set plays, and the Black & Red have been vulnerable to set pieces. Both goals conceded to Philadelphia were connected to a set piece. DC United’s ability to limit set pieces will help contain Almada and go a long way in how well they do in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. 


Who will start next to Klich?  

The as Who starts next to Klich will go a long ways to tell United fans what strategy Head Coach Lesesne is employing. If he starts Jackson Hopkins, it’s more of a defensive setup, with Hopkins playing a deep lying Center Defensive Midfielder. If he starts Ted Ku-DiPietro it’s more offensive lineup, with KDP playing an Attacking Midfielder.


While still room to grow, Hopkins has really settled in as a deeper Center Midfielder. This could be coupled with Matti Peltola playing in the back three defense, which could help playing against Giakoumakis.


Things to Watch: 


Offense -  While DC United’s offense starts and ends with Christian Benteke, it’s been important that the Black & Red find a second and third consistent scorer. DC has no other player that has scored more than one goal this season, though they do have numerous players who have scored one goal. 


The person who has begun to show the most potential to be that person is Jacob Murrell. The young first year player was a SuperDraft pick from Georgetown. At every level of play he’s shown the propensity of scoring. His playing style combines agility, speed, and a keen eye for goal opportunities. His insertion into United’s starting lineup has injected fresh energy into the Black & Red’s attack.


The other potential player who could pick up some of the scoring slack is Ted Ku-DiPietro. If not for injuries, he probably would have already scored a second or third goal for the season. If not for a tremendous heads up play by a Philly defender in front of the goal mouth he would’ve scored last week. 


Both Ted KDP and Jacob Murrell show lots of potential to provide alternative scoring options for United. Christian Benteke will get his as he is one of the league leaders in goal scoring, so if other United players step up, DC could see more victories, as there would be less pressure on their defense.


Defense - The defense of the Black & Red started out the season as United’s biggest question mark, and early in the season they have shown a strong defensive form which has been the foundation for the team to build upon. 


DC United’s Center-Backs are solid, Lucas Bartlett and Christopher McVey have been very capable of making defensive plays, settling the ball and passing the ball into dangerous attacking positions. For the last two weeks Matti Peltola has dropped back into a three Center Back lineup, which has brought out some of his best performances. 


Last week saw the return of Steve Birnbaum, who came on for the final fifteen minutes. Coming off injury, Lesesne is going to ease Birnbaum back into the lineup. Because there is a midweek game, and Mercedes-Benz’s artificial turf means he might not play this week, but it might mean that Lesesne utilizes all five of his substitutions.


The two Wingbacks that Lesesne uses have been strong. Aaron Herrera has been one of the best Right Backs/Wingbacks in MLS, and he has been in the discussion for DC United’s MVP. On the other side has been Christian Dajome, who has played well enough to be the regular starter. He could be improved upon, but until that time, Dajome has been a dogged defender who makes it harder for opponents to come up their right side.


Georgios Giakoumakis has been the Five Stripe’s main source of goals this season. He’s found the back of the net five times despite missing a few games due injuries. The back line will need to use their strength, length and speed to match up well against the talented Greek player. At the same time Hopkins and Klich will need to be on their game to contain Thiago Almada. The young Argentinian continues to be the engine for the Five Stripes. Limiting his effectiveness is important for DC.


United’s defense has a great opportunity in this match to get at least a draw, but need to continue to play disciplined soccer for the full ninety minutes.



By the Numbers:


Atlanta United FC

Atlanta United FC ranks 15th in MLS with 14 goals, 


Atlanta United FC has allowed 11 goals, 6th in MLS


Atlanta United FC has a +3 goal differential ranks 7th in MLS


Georgios Giakoumakis has 5 goals (9th in MLS) for Atlanta United FC


Thiago Almada has scored 2 goals and 2 assists


Saba Lobzhanidze has scored 2 goals and 1 assist


Brooks Lennon has added 1 goal and 3 assists.



DC United

DC United has scored 16 goals to rank 12th in MLS


DC United has conceded 17 goals to rank 19th in MLS


DC United’s goal differential of +2 is 11th in MLS


DC United’s -1 goal differential is 17th-ranked in MLS


Christian Benteke has 8 goals and 2  assists for DC United


Mateusz Klich has 1 goals and 5 assists, for DC United


Jared Stroud has 1 goal and 5 assists 


Aaron Herrera has zero goals but 4 assists


United has 6 other players who have one goal 


Predictions:

3-1 Loss. Atlanta United have been a boogeyman for DC United in recent visits to Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and this seems like a get-right game for the Five Stripes. This would a great game to pick up points and a draw would be great, but this doesn’t seem to be in the cards.











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