WASHINGTON -- D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen may find himself receiving phone calls from colleagues across the league trying to uncover his gameplan for Atlanta United’s high-octane offense. Even if it’s not that complicated.
After the Black and Red completed a season sweep in a 1-0 home victory on Wednesday and held the Five Stripes to their first shutout in nine matches, Olsen insisted D.C.’s continued success against Atlanta was due to a laser focus on one aspect of the game.
“Really it’s about how you deal with the transition game,” Olsen said. “And can you punish them for being aggressive.”
In a season where little else has gone right, last-placed D.C. have been nearly perfect in their three games against one of the most dynamic expansion teams in league history.
D.C. may have needed the help of a second game-winning own goal in as many games on Wednesday, as a header from Russell Canouse that redirected off Michael Parkhurst moments into the second half proved to be the difference.
But the hosts still demonstrated offensive efficiency reminiscent of their 2016 playoff push while posting their first consecutive league victories since April. D.C. finished with a 6-2 edge in shots on target, and Bill Hamid’s two saves were routine in nature.
“Once we settled in, I felt they got a little frustrated there toward the latter stages,” Olsen said. “And then we were able to, I think, get some good looks I think in transition. Quick, two passes, three passes, and all of the sudden, because of their aggression, you’re looking at a chance on goal.”
Atlanta’s two best chances came very early, when Miguel Almiron blistered an effort just wide of the near post in the fourth minute, and very late, when Josef Martinez dragged a first-time volley wide of the far post in second-half stoppage time.
For a side that remains beneath the playoff line, but with games in hand on most Eastern Conference foes, the best news for Atlanta may be that they likely won’t have to worry about solving D.C. again until 2018.
“I think matchups are a big thing,” said Atlanta defender Jeff Larentowicz. “And sometimes you play a couple times and it can be self-fulfilling, you know? You think about it and you overthink it.”
After the final whistle at RFK Stadium, the night ended with Olsen bickering across a language barrier with Atlanta coach Gerardo 'Tata' Martino. Olsen pointed at the scoreboard. Martino made a dismissive “go-away” hand gesture.
Afterward, Martino said it was merely a dispute over a foul. And Olsen said only, “I’m sure I did something.” But clearly, Olsen has Atlanta’s attention.
“He’s a smart guy,” said Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan. “Sometimes I don’t think he gets enough credit. But he puts their team in a position to keep themselves in games and give themselves opportunities to win games.”