Right before the next round on the upcoming week, we look into the battle between D.C United and Atlanta. They performed an exciting and definitely interesting game, therefore it is worth the time to look back to this match and see how United were defeated in spite of the fact that they played better.
DC United’s defending scheme and early minutes
I must start with this segment of the game because it had a major effect on the match, especially for the visitors’. DC United made a difficult task for the opponent with a massive defence.
The home side settled into a defensive manner and let the opponent to play (well, only until some point) in spite of the fact that they enjoyed the advantage of the home ground, which meant they emphasised on counter-attacks (a bit more than they wanted).
Their starting formation was a 4-2-3-1, but Ben Olsen asked his team to transform into a 4-4-2 shape in defending. This means that when they were out of possession, Acosta joined beside Rooney.
It seemed that they tried to form a tight, compact shape, which kind of surprised the guests. Thus in the first few minutes, they struggled to attack. Acosta and Rooney stayed central keeping Larentowicz between them, therefore Atlanta only had one way to progressing in the build-up, of course on the wings.
Usually, this formation only allowed space for the opponent on either side of the front two. This is why for example, Simeone at Atletico Madrid asks Griezmann and co. to shift the ball-side and cover that area, but this movement was missing from DC United, thus Atlanta could find space at the wings and the halfspaces.
However, Ben Olsen’s side squeezed their two four men line and limited the space the for Atlanta as much as possible.
Thus the first period of the game went without a real opportunity for Atlanta. They were struggling, but then it changed.
Atlanta became a threat to the opponent’s goal
Around 12th minutes in, the guests’ dominance started to rise and started to increase further. Atlanta were able to speed up their game and use the wings better. They managed to keep the pressure on the opponent’s defence and keep the ball in their half. There were some occasions in this period when after Atlanta lost the ball, they won it back almost immediately, thus eliminating D.C. United’s attempts for counter-attacks. The biggest pressure that Atlanta could apply was between the 20th and the 28th minute. There even was a time when Segura dropped to the defensive line and Acosta replaced him at the left side of the midfield which meant they formed into a 5-4-1 shape.
However, this would not last long, only a temporary move, but D.C. United frequently dropped deep and moved closer to each other, therefore the centre often looked congested. This action made as a reaction to the opponent’s threats and in limited the space much more. In these occasions, they often formed a 4-4-2 shape, as the images show below.
After this, you may ask what Atlanta could do in these circumstances? First of all, they could use the wings and target the penalty box with crosses. And truth to be told, D.C. United tried to be as compact as they could, but there were some flaws both vertically and horizontally, therefore the guests found gaps and spaces in the opponent’s defensive block. Although, they could not score from the few chances that they created.
Secondly, the most interesting tool they used in attacks were definitely the long balls from deeper areas in the halfspaces. Here are two amazing instances, where Atlanta find these spaces and played the ball in behind the D.C. United defence.
Both teams scored
Despite the bigger role in the first half and having more opportunities, Atlanta could not take the lead, but the home side were able to. After the good period from Atlanta, D.C. United scored from a goal kick. It is quite interesting how they positioned themselves right before the goal kick. As the image shows below, Wayne Rooney moved to the left side, while Segura and Acosta joined him and maintained a close proximity to Wayne.
The recipe was fairly easy: Rooney was focusing on getting the ball and immediately play onward and the other two team-mates waited for the moment when they could get away with the ball. This time Acosta got the ball and he could use this opportunity to score.
So, Ben Olsen’s side thought correctly in connecting their strategy. With Rooney on board, they were able to count on his great ability to keep the ball and play it superbly, therefore only the time was questionable: when will the opponent make a mistake what they can take advantage of it?
Nevertheless, Atlanta did not give up and before the break, they were able to equalise, interestingly with a goal from a corner. The situation that led to the corner was a counter-attack, the tool that mostly the home side used. They got a bit lazy and Atlanta won the ball back in the halfway line and quickly turned it into an attack.
After the break, D.C. United improved and started the second half better than their opponent. This led to an early goal. The home side regained the lead in the 52nd minute with a penalty that Rooney executed, but more importantly, the situation that led to the penalty was much more interesting than the penalty. Due to the fact that a counter-attack happened earlier. Again, Rooney kept the ball and played it superbly towards Acosta. Then Acosta had plenty of space on the right side, meaning he could run straight towards the goal.
Almost right after D.C. United’s goal, the guests had an opportunity to equalise again. Despite space being limited in this situation, Atlanta found the space. Also, the home side’s defensive line was a bit too narrow, thus they allow to Villalba in handling a perfect ball and targeting the goal, he failed to score though. Of course, it was Mora’s mistake as he did not pay attention to Villalba building up to this opportunity.
In the major part of the second half, it was well balanced which means neither teams could dominant in the half. Both teams had chances or dangerous situations, but only the home side were able to take advantage of them. In connection with this, the last goal decided everything. Rooney – who performed an impressive match – rapidly caught a bad pass and immediately passed to Acosta and again, this happened in the right side, as the second one.
So, this was the match where, if you didn’t take your opportunities, you were going to lose. This time Atlanta had more time on the ball ( 38%-62%) and had more than twice as many shots as D.C. United had (9-22). Therefore Atlanta failed to use their chances, while the home side scored mercilessly.
Also, it is important to mention Ben Olsen and Wayne Rooney, because the coach took advantage of Rooney’s abilities which were a huge contribution to this win. And Tata Martino has to work with his team to get better if they want to get back to the top of the Eastern Conference.