The Black-and-Red continue to defend their new home, a 3-1 over Atlanta United last night makes them 6-2-0 at Audi Field. Luciano Acosta recorded a brace, Wayne Rooney had a goal and two assists and Bill Hamid practically stood on his head in stretches. D.C. United did something Atlanta’s last nine opponents couldn’t do, kept Josef Martinez scoreless. It was a big win for the home side as the three points allowed them to remain just six points behind Montreal, the caveat being that D.C. United’s played three less games than the Impact.
Paul Arriola had a big night as well, with Oniel Fisher out he made his first start at right back. Ben Olsen praised Paul during his post game press conference for being willing to take on the challenge of the new position. He did well reading the game, letting it come to him and taking advantage of opportunities when they were presented to him. Arriola cited the constant communication with Kofi Opare as something that helped him during the match. Olsen had this to say of Arriola. “For him to embrace that, you don’t know how many players, you tell them that and they’re not willing to embrace a new role or a moment in a selfless way. He didn’t even think about it. It was like, ‘Alright, let’s go.”
On the surface it’s easy to say that Atlanta dominated this match, they did win the possession battle. Still, it’s not so cut and dry. The Black-and-Red did a good job of defending despite the relentless pressure applied by the visitors. Atlanta gives their opponents a ton to worry about, Olsen citing just that. “We wanted to crowd the center of the park as much as possible. If the ball comes out wide to their outside backs, that’s the lesser of two evils. They force you to give somewhere on the field. We also defended the box very well. I don’t know how many times a guy laid out to make a block… that’s how you beat a team like this.”
Acosta scored his first goal in the 28th minute, the play started with a Bill Hamid goal kick. Rooney headed the ball to a running Acosta and Lucho beat two defenders, then the keeper to open up the scoring. Atlanta would respond in the 39th minute when Jeff Larentowicz headed the service from Barco off a corner past Hamid.
Arriola hadn’t gone forward much in the first half, but he made a great run around the 50th minute and got into the box. He tried to fight through the contact, but was unable to shoot the ball. The referee awarded D.C. United a penalty. The play started with Acosta playing the ball to Rooney, Wayne directed the ball into open space and Paul was off to the races. With Barco closing, Arriola tried to slow down so he could put the ball on his right foot, there was contact and then the call was made. The captain stepped up to take the penalty and he calmly put the ball into the right corner as Brad Guzan dove to the left. That gave D.C. United a 2-1 lead in the 52nd minute.
Atlanta continued to threaten over the next 20 minutes, but they weren’t able to get clean shots as several defenders for D.C. United gave up their bodies for blocks. On the instances in which they didn’t get block the shot, Hamid was there to foil the attempts. The visitors took 22 shots on the night, but only seven of those were on target and another seven were blocked by defenders. Hamid recorded six saves, bailing his backline out in a couple instances.
The home side delivered the dagger in the 77th minute. Russell Canouse played a ball near Rooney and the vet came to the ball and guided it towards Acosta. From there the Argentine did the rest, Acosta only had Larentowicz to beat and there was nothing but space and opportunity. There was only so much Larentowicz could do, Lucho played the ball from his right foot to his left and the defender turned. In that instant Acosta placed a left footed shot into the near post, beating Guzan for his second time of the match.
In the 82nd minute Larentowicz tried to get his second goal of the night, but Hamid got a hand on the header and parried it away. A minute later, Hamid makes another big save on a bending shot to the near post. From there, the home side was able to hold on and secure the three points against one of the top teams in the East.
Rooney the facilitator. We’ve touched on this several times, but Rooney has been far more dangerous making plays for others than for himself thus far. He now has five assists this season, four of which resulted in goals by Acosta. His ability to see the game a few steps ahead really puts his teammates in good spots. Being able to facilitate has played a big role in Lucho’s sudden uptick in goals scored.
Arriola. Simple, he stepped up and did a good job filling in for Oniel Fisher. What’s weird is that the team has struggled at times to service Paul out wide when he plays midfield, but he wound up with good opportunities tonight while playing right back. What stood out most was his willingness to compete on the defensive end, he was willing to sacrifice like everyone else on the backline. His willingness to do whatever benefited the team should be commended.
Lucho’s Evolving. Over the past few seasons he was seen as nothing more than a skilled playmaker, the addition for Rooney has allowed him to be a bit more greedy in the scoring department. Rooney has said he’s talked to Luciano about taking more shots and clearly the message has been well received. Acosta’s a hand to deal with when he’s looking to get others involved, he’s twice as tough to cover when he uses his skill to create space for himself. He’s proven to be quite clinical as a scorer and it’s been fun to watch him grow as a player. It doesn’t get as much attention,but his workrate defensively isn’t bad either.
Hamid. Having Bill in goal is similar to having an elite rim protector in basketball. He has a huge presence in the box, he gets big and takes away angles and some of his saves feel like when a center blocks a dunk. It deflates the opponent and gives D.C. United a boost, he’s not quite back to his best, but he continues to improve each and every match. It’s definitely fair to question if they get that win with someone else in goal, considering the opportunities he erased.