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Atlanta United FC vs DC United Game Preview


Predicted Lineups

Atlanta United FC

Starters: Brad Guzan; Brooks Lennon, Miles Robinson, Juanjo Purata, Andrew Gutman, Matheus Rossetto, Franco Ibarra, Luiz Araujo, Thiago Almad, Caleb Wiley, Georgios Giakoumakis

Subs: Quentin Westberg, Aiden McFadden, Ronald Hernández, Santiago Sosa, Derrick Etienne Jr, Tyler Wolf, Miguel Berry

Captain: Brad Guzan

Formation (4-2-3-1)

Injury Report:

Out

  • Amir Sejdic

  • Erik Lopez 

  • Osvaldo Alonso


DC United 

Starter: Tyler Miller, Victor Palsson, Derrick Williams, Donovan Pines, Chris Durkin, Pedro Santos, Russell Canouse, Mateusz Klich, Lewis O’Brien,  Taxi Fountas, Christian Benteke, 

Subs: Alex Bono, Steve Birnbaum, Brendan Hines-Ike, Jacob Greene, Gaoussou Samaké, Yamil Asad, Ted Ku-DiPietro, Cristian Dájome, Eric Hurtado

Captain: Derrick Williams

Formation (3-4-2-1)


Injury Report:

Out

  • Rodriguez (knee)

  • Robertha (ankle)

  • Jeahze (thigh)

  • Ruan (thigh)

Questionable

  • Andy Najar (hamstring)

  • Ted Ku-DiPietro (Ankle)


The Managers

Atlanta United FC - Gonzalo Pineda

The former Mexican player and coach signed with Atlanta United on August 12, 2021 to become the club'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. At the time Pineda was an Assistant Coach with the Seattle Sounders FC. In his years with the Sounders, Pineda was known for his tactical contributions to the team.

 

As a player, Pineda spent eleven seasons playing in Liga MX, two in MLS and represented Mexico with 45 appearances for El Tri. Pineda began his professional career with UNAM Pumas in 2003 and spent three seasons with the Mexico City-based club where he won the 2004 Liga MX Clausura and Apertura titles. As a Central Midfielder, Pineda developed a style for moving the ball on the ground with quick controlled passes and movement off the ball. His Liga MX experience has definitely influenced his coaching tactics.


With Seattle’s coaching staff, Gonzalo Pineda learned what it takes to build a winning culture and he has attempted to duplicate that in Atlanta. It’s hard to judge how well he’s doing for the Five Stripes, as he has had to overhaul the roster, which had a lot of big names, but didn’t click as a team. His roster is now coming into form, and he definitely has the stars in Thiago Almada and Georgios Giakoumakis to build around. This will be an important year for Pineda to see if he can return Atlanta United FC to being considered class of MLS.


DC United - Wayne Rooney 

The English Gaffer has continued to improve DC United’s play in all aspects on the field. Every player has demonstrated some improvement this year. At the same time he has built a sense of camaraderie and teamwork that hasn’t been seen in years. 


Rooney is a pragmatic coach who continues to build his strategy around the strengths of his players, while putting in place tactics designed to mitigate their weaknesses. Rooney continues to preach the idea of playing with courage and on the front foot, yet at the same time patience and calmness on the ball when in the attack, so they can maintain control of the game. His team is playing better in defense and controlling the flow of the game. The next step is for the Black & Red to improve in the final third and create more scoring opportunities.


Keys to the Match: 


Can DC overtake Atlanta? The Black & Red two points behind fifth-placed Atlanta who are undefeated in their last four matches, but all have been draws. Atlanta started the season strong, with Thiago Almada an early candidate for League MVP. However their form hasn’t been as strong, and DC United could leapfrog them in the standings with a win.

The Eastern Conference is going to be a tight race, with the fifth through ninth spot separated by four 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 a playoff berth.


Can DC beat Brad Guzan?  Atlanta United Goalkeeper, Brad Guzan, is coming off one of his best performances in an Atlanta United kit, earning his team a point on the road against LAFC with his play between the goal posts. DC has had the misfortune of playing a number of Goalkeepers this season that just stood on their heads and denied the Black & Red any opportunity to score. Guzan did that to LAFC on Wednesday, and so could be feeling very confident going into Saturday’s match DC has shown the ability to control the midfield, but seen their attack bog down in the final third. If DC is to get a result in Atlanta, it will need to make its opportunities count.


Can DC keep Thiago Almada? Thiago Almada exploded onto the MLS season when he scored twice in the final minutes against San Jose. After being on the Argentinian World Cup Championship team, and being only 22, Almada has been seen as the next young phenom. The young attacking midfielder has been in strong form this season, having netted seven goals. He’s been especially dangerous in set plays. Currently Almada is leading MLS in chance-creation, thanks in large part to his ability to deliver inch perfect passes on corner kicks and free kicks.

The Black & Red’s ability to contain Almada will go a long way in how well they do in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Russell Canouse is back from concussion protocols, and a lot of the responsibility for containing Almada will fall on his shoulders. O’Brien and Klich will press Almada, but the bulk of the defense will be Canouse who will have to harry Almada all over the field.


Which team’s Greek player will step up?  Taxi Fountas has had an up-and-down season so far this year. When he burst onto the stage last season, Taxi was one of the fastest goal scorers in league history. The general poor play of the team however curtailed his scoring opportunities, and injuries have limited this year. Still he has three goals this season and is back healthy. Playing next to Benteke, Fountas should have opportunities to put the ball into the net. If he gets these chances, he needs to make the most of them.

For Atlanta, their Greek player is Georgios Giakoumakis, and he’s been even more prolific than Taxi was last season. He joined Atlanta after the season had started, but in his thirteen matches has scored 9 goals. Giakoumakis is a strong Center Forward who makes smart and well timed runs behind defenders. He’s also shown a proclivity for being in the right spot at the right time in the box, so able to get easier goals. DC United’s defenders will need to stay focused and not lose concentration, or Giakoumakis will make them pay.

Whichever Greek player steps up in this game will go a long way in determining who wins this match.


Things to Watch: 


Offense -  The offense will start and end with Christian Benteke. One set of tactics is reliant on long balls to Benteke, where the Belgian’s 6’3 frame is strong enough to hold off most defenders and his skill at controlling the ball is underrated. His hold up play, and ability to link up with teammates is unparalleled in this season’s MLS. When you add Benteke’s finishing, there is an argument that he is the best pure Striker this season. Benteke gives DC the ability to go long, and get the ball out from their half of the field. Even when Benteke doesn’t score, his presence forces the defense to pay attention, and can lead to scoring opportunities for Taxi Fountas. 

MLS pundits tend to see DC United as one-dimensional because Benteke has been such a huge presence for the team, but it’s a mistake. Mateusz Klich and Lewis O’Brien give the Black & Red the ability to bring the ball up and play through opponents. Atlanta seems especially vulnerable to this at this point of the season. What was once a strength of Atlanta United, playing the ball through opponents that had stretch their defensive shape and were playing higher up the field has one of the Five Stripes biggest weaknesses. Atlanta has looked its best this season when its opponents set up in a deep block in front of their own goal and allow Atlanta to come at them. 


This may work out well for the Black & Red, as Rooney has tasked his players with playing higher, pressing more, and taking it at the opponent. Look for Benteke and Taxi to apply pressure,  specifically pushing beyond Franco Ibarra to close down the two center backs. Miles Robinson is a great defender, but average to subpar in passing. Pressure will lead to sloppy passing which will lead to interceptions by United’s midfield.


The last portion of the Black & Red's offense is their use of set plays. DC United has become quite proficient at scoring off set plays. Using the size and strength of Benteke and Donovan Pines, and the arial ability of Steve Birnbaum, DC is very dangerous when they get set plays in the final third. Center-Back Donovan Pines alone has scored three goals for United.

With Atlanta United also showing the ability to score off set pieces, this match could come down to who best utilizes set piece opportunities.


Defense - The defense of the Black & Red started out the season as United’s biggest question mark, and early in the season they let in a number of goals at one point leading the league in most goals allowed. However, over the last two months, the defensive form for the team has been the foundation the team is built upon. It starts with the Goal Keeper, Tyler Miller, who plays the role of Keeper Sweeper in the most unique way. No other Keeper has made defensive plays at the midfield like Miller has. Rooney wants his Goal Keeper to cover the space behind the back line, which allows his three Center-Backs to push higher.


DC United’s Center-Backs are solid, Victor Palsson, Derrick Williams, and Donovan Pines have become a foundational force, very capable of settling the ball and passing the ball into dangerous attacking positions. The two Wingbacks that Rooney uses have had to rotate due to the number of injuries the team suffered in that position, yet there’s been little drop off. There is a good chance Andy Najar will be out for the match against Atlanta due to a hamstring injury. Over a number of games, Durkin has proven to be a decent replacement for Najar, and so will most likely play Right Back against Atlanta. While not the amazing dribbler that Najar is, Durkin is a better defender, and provides better long passes.

Georgios Giakoumakis has been the Five Stripe’s main source of goals this season. He’s found the back of the net nine times despite missing the first few games of the season during his transfer from Celtic. Donovan Pines has the strength, length and speed to match up well against the Greek player. He will need support from Palsson and Williams. At the same time Canouse will need to contain Thiago Almad. The young Argentinian player has been 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 a victory, but need to continue to play disciplined soccer.



By the Numbers:

Atlanta United FC ranks 2nd in MLS with 32 goals, 


Atlanta United FC has allowed 28 goals (28th in MLS)


Atlanta United FC has outscored opponents 32-28, and its +4 goal differential ranks 10th in MLS


Georgios Giakoumakis has 9 goals (4th in MLS) for Atlanta United FC


Thiago Almada has scored 7 goals and 6 assists


Brooks Lennon has added 1 goal and 5 assists


Araujo has provided 3 goals and 2 assists


Brad Guzman has kept 4 clean sheets


DC United has scored 24 goals in 17 games to rank 8th in MLS


DC United has conceded 21 goals to rank 15th in MLS


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


DC United’s +3 goal differential is 11th-ranked in MLS


Christian Benteke has 8 goals and 2 assists for DC United


Mateusz Klich has 2 goals and 4 assists, for DC United.


Ku-DiPietro has 3 goals (on six shots, 0.6 per game).


Taxi Fountas has 3 goals (on 11 shots, 1.1 per game).


Donovan Pines has 3 goals (on four shots, 0.6 per game)


Tyler Miller has kept 5 clean sheets



Predictions:

1-1 Draw. Atlanta United have been strong at home this season, winning five of their eight matches, but have drawn their last four. DC United have been more up and down, but picked up points in five of their nine games on road. This game just feels like a tight match and will finish with the points being shared.


Coverage: Apple MLS Season Pass on Apple TV

Pregame 7:15p 

Start time 7:55

Listen on…

📻: 1190am, 101.1HD2, 104.7fm

💻: iHeartSportsDC

🔊: Any Smart Speaker 

📱: @iHeartRadio App


Written by: RJ Rolsen 






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