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Three things: Atlanta go home, get back on track vs. DCU

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Sunday provided everyone with example no. 143,395 of Why we shouldn’t draw any conclusions whatsoever from the first week — or two months, probably — of the MLS season.

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From week to week, no other league in the world will see a team turn in such diametrically opposed performances…

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Tactical flexibility is a must-have in today’s MLS

Atlanta United were demolished and run off the field in their season-opening 4-0 loss to the Houston Dynamo last weekend, at which point the MLS masses were clearly a tad too quick to celebrate and dance on the Five Stripes’ grave.

Not only did the players respond during Sunday’s 3-1 thrashing of D.C. United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, so too did manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino during the week as he settled on a formational change and devised the perfect gameplan to cure precisely what ailed his high-powered attacking machine just eight short days ago. In that game, Atlanta were completely overrun in midfield with Darlington Nagbe and Chris McCann deployed as a double pivot in a 4-2-3-1 — it didn’t work because there was simply too much space — vertically, but especially horizontally — for the pair to cover, and they were torched out wide.

To offset the obvious shortcomings of a Nagbe-McCann central midfield, Martino swapped the 4-2-3-1 for an aggressive, high-pressing 5-3-2 which featured Greg Garza and second-year Swiss Army knife utilitarian Julian Gressel and left and right wing backs, respectively. The third central defender helped Nagbe and his new midfield partner, Jeff Larentowicz, vertically while Garza and Gressel were godsends to either side. Not only were they asked to do far less defensively, thanks to G&G harassing Yamil Asad and Paul Arriola out wide, but Nagbe in particular was able to have an immense impact on Atlanta’s possession game — something which was null and void just a week ago.

Tata’s also working out the Nagbe “problem”

Speaking of Nagbe, it’s only a small exaggeration to suggest he could lead the league in assists, on secondary assists alone, this season. Consider the embarrassment of attacking talent playing ahead of him: Miguel Almiron, Ezequiel Barco and Hector Villalba — who’d be the focal point for at least half the teams in MLS, but falls to third chair in his own midfield — playing behind Josef Martinez. There will be plenty of goals scored in the ATL, just like last season.

Take Atlanta’s first goal on Sunday as the most perfect example of how much easier the aforementioned stars have already begun to make Nagbe’s job. Sure, the first touch is great and bails out Villalba who’s in a tough trapped spot up against the sideline, but the ensuing through ball for Villalba is elementary stuff for a player of Nagbe’s skill:

The “problem” that Nagbe has presented his various coaches — both club and international — throughout his career is that he “should” be this type of player, or he “should” be that type of player. It’s pretty clear, after seven seasons and more than 200 appearances, he’s not a no. 10 and he’s not a winger. Let the man be the brilliant shuttler and link between defense/defensive midfield and a vibrant, downhill attacking quartet. (Caleb Porter stumbled onto this formula in 2015, and the Portland Timbers rode it all the way to MLS Cup.) Does it carry less weight and sound far less sexy? Sure, but to play the part as quickly and instinctually as Nagbe can do, might just be what separates Atlanta from being “fun” and “great.”

Plenty of reason to have hope for DCU

I said it before the season, and I’ll say it again now: by the time summer arrives, no team will have improved more from 2017 to 2018 than D.C. United. The roster was turned over last August (Arriola, Zoltan Stieber and Russell Canouse) and the overhaul continued this winter (Asad, Frederic Brilliant, Ulises Segura and Junior Moreno). For the first time in a long while, Ben Olsen has a genuinely talented MLS roster at his disposal.

For not-insignificant stretches of Sunday’s game — say, most of the second half — United were not quite in control of the run of play, but they were the more dangerous side with the score still 1-0. Darren Mattocks missed a couple decent chances (as he does) and the Black and Red were unable to capitalize and fatally conceded two goals in as many minutes.

Once Luciano Acosta reclaims his place in the starting lineup (he returned to the bench after being suspended for last week’s 1-1 draw with Orlando City SC), he should tie together United’s sturdy back half and an attacking unit made up of (largely) slightly above replacement-level MLS retreads.

Ben Olsen suspended for D.C. United opener

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D.C. United will be without its manager for its opening game of the 2018 Major League Soccer season.

An MLS spokesperson confirmed that Olsen is suspended for the opener after being dismissed following the final whistle in D.C. United’s final match of the 2017 season, a 2-1 defeat at RFK Stadium to the New York Red Bulls. Olsen was sent off after “failure to act in a responsible manner,” according to an MLS spokesperson, which included reportedly some colorful language towards the officials. David Gantar was the center referee for that match.

[READ: Hear what DeAndre Yedlin had to say about the USMNT]

D.C. United is coming off yet another disappointing season but is set this June to move into its brand-new home, Audi Field, and ahead of the move, the club has been active in the transfer market.

The club acquired David Ousted to man the nets, as well as acquiring former Atlanta United starter Yamil Asad and Darren Mattocks to lead the attack.

D.C. United also let a number of players from last season’s squad leave, including Homegrown player Bill Hamid, Deshorn Brown, Sean Franklin and Patrick Nyarko.

Barron Trump signs for DC United’s youth team

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Previously he’s been spotted wearing an Arsenal jersey and now Barron Trump, the son of U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump, could be the future of U.S. Soccer.

Okay, that’s taking it a little too far but still, he obviously loves the game.

News has arrived that the 11-year-old has joined D.C. United’s U-12 team as part of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy and is listed as a midfielder.

During the White House’s Annual Easter Egg Roll in April he was seen wearing an Arsenal jersey. He also spoke with players from D.C. United and Barron has also been seen kicking a ball around the White House lawn.

Imagine if you put up a couple of goals on that lawn. What a lovely pitch that is for your backyard…

Barron has been given the number 81 jersey and has played in four games this season, with DCU’s next home game at RFK Stadium on Saturday against PA Classics.

MLS: ATL leave it late in PHI; NE’s playoff hopes die in DC

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Philadelphia Union 2-2 Atlanta United

The game in 100 words (or less): Atlanta United’s defense, the expansion side’s achilles heel all season long, lapsed for no more than five minutes against the Philadelphia Union, and Tata Martino’s side struggled to a 2-2 draw which might ultimately cost them dearly in the playoffs race. With a chance to distance themselves from the Montreal Impact for sixth in the Eastern Conference, and set themselves up beautifully as the home-heavy portion of their schedule approaches, those five minutes cost Atlanta a pair of points against a 10-man Union side (Josh Yaro, 52nd minute) which held just 31 percent of possession on their home field. Roland Alberg and Alejandro Bedoya scored the Union’s goals, pulling Jim Curtin’s side to within three points of sixth place, while Atlanta remain a point back of Montreal (now level on games played, with 10 to go). Yamil Asad and Tyrone Mears blazed the comeback path for Atlanta.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s MLS roundup — TFC dominant; wild Texas derby ]

Three moments that mattered

18′ — Alberg gets behind, slots it past Guzan for 1-0 — Someone along the Atlanta backline lost track of… well, just about every attacker in the box. The lofted through ball fell to the chest of Alberg, and the Dutchman showed great composure at close range to collect and finish the chance.

23′ — Bedoya reacts quickest, makes it 2-0 — Alberg whipped the corner kick into the box, Jack Elliott headed it on at the near post, and Bedoya contorted his body to put his foot on the ball and double the lead.

26′ — Asad roofs it from a tough angle, and it’s 2-1 — It’s unclear whether or not Josef Martinez meant to head this ball an entire 90 degrees away from goal. In the end, it simply looks like a brilliant assist.

90+1′ — Mears heads home from distance — It’s an unlucky goal to give up, but one the whole of their 40-minute man advantage, Atlanta were deserving of their point.

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Man of the match: Roland Alberg

Goalscorers: Alberg (18′), Bedoya (23′), Asad (26′), Mears (90+1′)


D.C. United 1-0 New England Revolution

The game in 100 words (or less): Already seven points out of the playoff places in the East, losing to last-place D.C. United, 1-0 on Saturday, was almost surely the final nail in the Revolution’s coffin for the 2017 season. After winning three of four from mid-July to early August, the Revs have now lost back-to-back games to New York City FC and United. Luciano Acosta scored the game’s only goal, pulling Ben Olsen’s side to within a single point of the Revs in their bid to leave the East’s cellar..

[ MORE: Wednesday’s MLS roundup — TFC dominant; wild Texas derby ]

Three One moments that mattered

71′ — Acosta pokes home from close range — Lloyd Sam floated the ball into the box, Kofi Opare headed back across the face of goal, and Acosta was the only player make the far-post run, which made it oh so easy to beat Cody Cropper.

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Man of the match: Russell Canouse

Goalscorers: Acosta (71′)

MLS Wednesday roundup: Wild Texas derby, TFC remains dominant

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As the Major League Soccer regular season hits its most critical juncture, teams in both conferences are scrambling for points.

[ MORE: NYCFC-Dynamo match moved to Connecticut in September ]

Wednesday night was no different as seven matches took place across the league.

A crazy affair in Texas ended 3-3 as FC Dallas and the Houston Dynamo after two late goals from Erick “Cubo” Torres pulled out the draw for the visitors. Meanwhile, the Portland Timbers crept closer to the top of the Western Conference with a narrow victory over the struggling Colorado Rapids.

In the East, it’s much of the same for Toronto FC, who continue to be MLS’ most dominant club. Greg Vanney’s side is now unbeaten in its last eight matches, and currently holds a seven-point advantage at the top of the Eastern Conference.

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D.C. United will take wins however they can get them, and Ben Olsen’s group picked up their seventh of the season on Wednesday after Michael Parkhurt’s own goal proved to be the difference against Atlanta United. D.C. has managed to sweep all three matches against the MLS newcomers in 2017.

Here’s the full rundown of scores from Wednesday’s MLS action.

Columbus Crew 2-0 LA Galaxy
D.C. United 1-0 Atlanta United
FC Dallas 3-3 Houston Dynamo
Toronto FC 3-0 Philadelphia Union
Real Salt Lake 4-0 San Jose Earthquakes
Vancouver Whitecaps 1-1 Seattle Sounders
Portland Timbers 2-1 Colorado Rapids