Clinical finishing was the difference between Atlanta United FC and D.C. United. The visitors picked up a shock 3-1 win over Atlanta in what should have been a happy return for the home side. Kofi Opare and Billy Hamid held Atlanta at bay and at the other end, Luciano Acosta was the winner in the battle of the Number 10s today.
With this being the last game of week nine in Major League Soccer, this one did not disappoint.
Atlanta start the game with a great tempo
In their first home game since March 18th, DC looked to set up their stall early and dominate proceedings. They did just that from the moment the first whistle blew. Yamil Asad played a great ball around the corner to a marauding Greg Garza two minutes into the match. The full back then delivered a great cross that went over Kenwyn Jones' head but arrived at the feet of Héctor Villalba. If it wasn't for a fantastic block by D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid, Atlanta would have been up a goal straight away.
A minute later and Hamid denied Villalba again when after some great play by Jones, Miguel Almirón and Asad found Villalba at the far post again but the goalkeeper moved quickly to block the effort. In the same sequence of play, the resulting corner fell to an unmarked Asad at the far post but he nodded his header wide.
The pressure from Atlanta was immense and it was only a matter of time before they got the goal their play deserved.
In the ninth minute, Almirón and Garza linked up before the full back found Asad in the box. The Argentinian ghosted by his marker and then played a lovely lofted ball to Jones who lost his marker and nodded home with ease at the far post. Garza was at it again seven minutes later when he found Jones with another great cross but this time the striker was unable to redirect his effort on goal. Jones then had a chance to double the score in the 18th minute but a last ditch tackle by Kofi Opare stopped the striker in his tracks as he was bearing down on goal.
D.C. United stem the tide and take the lead
That missed opportunity by Jones and others would come back to haunt Atlanta as D.C. United began to find their footing in the game. The first real chance for them arrived in the 21st minute when Lloyd Sam's corner found the head of Opare but the defender sent his header well wide. Four minutes later, the away side equalized. Lamar Neagle, who had had a quiet game before then, won the ball off Julian Gressel in a dangerous place for Atlanta and burst into the box. He then tried to find Sebastian Le Toux with a square pass that was deflected into his own net by Michael Parkhurst. It was completely against the run of play and silenced a vociferous home crowd.
Atlanta continued to retain most of the possession and try to find gaps in a now solid D.C. United team but it was the Atlanta defenders that would cause all the problems for their won team. Leandro González Pirez was guilty of giving the ball away a few times and in the 35th minute, did exactly that but Sebastian Le Toux was unable to beat Alec Kann. The young defender was at fault again two minutes later when he gave the ball away to Luciano Acosta. The attacking midfielder then used his pace and trickery to glide by a few Atlanta players before firing low to Kann's left and giving D.C United the lead.
Both Gressel and Jones had oportunties to draw Atlanta level again before the half but they could not find the finishing touch and Atlanta headed into the locker room wondering how they were behind in the games.
United shut down Atlanta's attack, strike on the break
The second half was all about what Atlanta could not do with the amount of possession they had all game long. The home side could not find the finishing touch to many of their build ups and it was 'DCU' that made the most of their limited chances in front of goal. In the 52nd minute, Sam found Acosta in the penalty area and the midfielder was able to swivel and shoot towards goal with his right foot.
It took strong hands from Kann to prevent Acosta from scoring his second of the day. That was a warning sign that Atlanta did not heed and in the 56th minute, Le Toux made them pay. The ball broke to Acosta in his own half and he played one long through ball onto Le Toux who made no mistake one-on-one with Kann.
That was the breathing room that D.C. United wanted and after the goal by Le Toux, the away side sat bank and challenged Atlanta to break them down. It was a feat that Atlanta could not accomplish and without a recognizable Plan B, the home side were unable to find a way through a very stout backline led by Opare who was on hand, time and time again to make a vital block.
The best chance of the half for Atlanta came in the 80th minute when Villalba, who had drifted out of the game after the first two minutes, popped up on the right and fired towards goal. Hamid stood tall and punched the ball away to prevent any late come back from Atlanta. It was D.C. United who had the last laugh as they almost scored a fourth in injury time through Neagle. It took a diving kick from Parkhurst to stop Neagle's effort from going into an empty net and piling on the misery for Atlanta.