Mar 11, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta United fans participate in the supporters march before the match against the D.C. United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
D.C. United could not hold off a fiery Atlanta United team in front of a record 72,000 fans Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Despite matching Atlanta defensively in the starting minutes of the first half, D.C. was unable to put a shot on goal. The lack of offense was deadly when Atlanta turned on its jets in the second half, scoring two goals in two minutes.
D.C. couldn’t hold out
D.C.’s game plan against Atlanta was simple.
“We have to weather the storm,” coach Ben Olsen said last week after training.
A connected and speedy Atlanta offense quickly complicated that plan. D.C. held off Atlanta with a collapsed midfield and tight defense for the first 20 minutes of the match, but the Black-and-Red fell apart three minutes later in transition.
Atlanta midfielder Darlington Nagbe won a botched pass in the midfield and set up a long ball to Hector Villalba, who nutmegged defender Steven Birnbaum. Josef Martinez streaked into the box and finished the cross to give Atlanta the lead.
D.C. held Atlanta to just one goal in the first half, but the 9-0 shot differential in Atlanta’s favor at halftime was deadly.
In the second half, Atlanta scored two goals in two minutes. D.C. was unable to make a comeback and left the match with a consolation goal from forward Darren Mattocks.
Acosta is not yet 100 percent
Last season, D.C. ran through the central midfielder Luciano Acosta. This season, Acosta has yet to put together impactful minutes. Suspended for the first match against Orlando City SC, Acosta made the 18-man roster against Atlanta replacing Bruno Miranda on the bench.
Acosta was not 100 percent, physically, entering Sunday’s match, according to Washington Post reporter Steven Goff.
#DCU lineup at #ATLUTD (4-2-3-1): Ousted; DeLeon, Birnbaum, Brillant, Fisher; Moreno, Segura; Arriola, Stieber, Asad; Mattocks. (Acosta returns from suspension but not fully fit, probably enter as sub) #MLS
— Steven Goff (@SoccerInsider) March 11, 2018
Down by one in the 62nd minute, Olsen sent Acosta in the match for midfielder Zoltan Stieber. Moments later, Acosta returned to the sideline to manage a nosebleed. The typical D.C. playmaker was uncharacteristically silent the rest of the game.
In-game switch revealed versatility on defense
Olsen made a mid-math switch in the defense. After Martinez’s goal, defenders Nick DeLeon and Oniel Fisher switched sides. DeLeon played the remainder of the game on the left side while Fisher played the right.
Wingers typically switch sides several times a game, but it is rare to see it at outside back. The switch was tactical. DeLeon is the better one-to-one defender and was able to mostly shutdown midfielder Julian Gressel.
DeLeon is one of the more versatile players on D.C.’s squad. He has played in the midfield and the defense as well as both sides of the field. Fisher is also versatile and naturally right-footed, which makes him an ideal choice in the rotation of outside backs.
Olsen will have a tough, but welcome decision to make when newcomer left back Joseph Mora makes his first appearance in the 18-man roster.