Mar 3, 2019; Washington, D.C., USA; D.C. United midfielder Luciano Acosta (10) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against Atlanta United during the second half at Audi Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
WASHINGTON — D.C. United turned a gray evening at Audi Field into a bright start to the 2019 Major League Soccer season Sunday, defeating Atlanta United 2-0 at home.
“I am really pleased at the performance overall. I was pleased with the start and the timing of the goals,” coach Ben Olsen said. “Maybe we didn’t get their best punch, but in this league you take advantage of those days, and I think we did that for most of the night.”
United first found the back of the net with the final few touches of the first half. On the team’s seventh corner kick, forward Wayne Rooney lofted a ball into the box and connected with midfielder Luciano Acosta. Marked by Atlanta captain Michael Parkhurst, Acosta’s first touch ricocheted into the box. Midfielder Paul Arriola sprinted in and finished the play with a goal.
“To be honest, I didn’t even know it was right before halftime. It was an intense game for us and required a lot of attention from us, and I forgot to look up at the clock.” Arriola said. “It was constant [perseverance] getting corner kick after corner kick after corner kick, and when that happens we are bound to get something.”
Game-time temperatures dropped down into the 30s as a steady rain fell on an announced 16,942 in attendance. MLS commissioner Don Garber was one of those people in attendance. He spoke with reporters prior to kickoff.
“We are pushing the envelope as much as we can,” Garber said of starting the season in early March. “I don’t know, in the current environment that we are in, how we could push it much earlier.”
United’s attack and the rain refused to let up in the second half. Acosta took a chance in the 58th minute, knowing he could use the wet conditions to his advantage. The midfielder shot from 20 yards out. Atlanta keeper Brad Guzan dove to save the ball, but was briefly caught off balance and the ball skipped over his arms.
“I knew it was slippery and wet out there. We tested him a couple times before,” Acosta said of Guzan. “I just hit it like I needed to and luckily it went in.”
Capitalizing on several opportunities before halftime was crucial for United against a group of Atlanta players balancing MLS opening weekend sandwiched in between two Concacaf Champions League matches. The latter includes a trip down to Mexico.
“Although it was a really good performance and a mature performance from us, you have to take it with a little grain of salt,” Olsen said. “ I have been in Concacaf. I have mixed up lineups. I have been on planes going back and forth to and from Central America. It is a grind.”
Atlanta coach Frank De Boer quickly subbed on 2018 South American Player of the Year Pity Martinez and defender Julian Gressel after United’s goal. Both players will likely feature as starters in Wednesday’s Concacaf Champions League game.
United switched into a more defensive formation with 25 minutes to go. Olsen took off newcomer Lucas Rodriguez for the more defensive-minded midfielder Ulises Segura. In his first MLS appearance for United, Rodriguez facilitated several plays up the spine of the team and added pressure to Atlanta’s backline. He also recorded an assist to United’s second goal.
“[Rodriguez] is fearless. He finds nice pockets and has good control with the ball,” Olsen said. “He is a guy, now, that we have to push to get a little more of a final product. He gets himself in good spots to finish off plays.”
Atlanta had a few moments of offensive pressure in the second half, but did not take too many shots on goal. D.C. finished the night with 17 shots to Atlanta’s nine.
“We would like to kill it off in a little different way and that would be with the ball,” Olsen said. “There were four or five times in the last 20 minutes where we could make better decisions so we can now kill it off with the ball and make them work.”
United now takes a win north for a game Sunday at 3 p.m. ET against New York City FC. Meanwhile, Atlanta faces a quick turnaround and flies to Mexico Monday night for its CCL game Wednesday against Monterrey.
“I have never seen it as split attention. I think their full focus would have been on tonight,” Rooney said of the Five Stripes. “It is a bit unfair to say toward a team that they were looking at their next game. They came here and worked hard, and we were just the better team.”