Return to Atlanta "strange" for D.C. United's Yamil Asad

WASHINGTON — Yamil Asad isn’t sure exactly how he’ll feel when he arrives at Mercedes-Benz Stadium this weekend as a visitor.

“It’s a situation that’s a little strange, that I didn’t think would ever happen,” he said through a translator on Tuesday.

Until near the end of his loan from Argentine club Velez Sarsfield, Asad believed he’d be staying with Atlanta United beyond 2017. And when the two sides couldn’t agree to terms to prolong his stay, it could’ve spelled a permanent departure from MLS.

But eventually a D.C. United side that needed his offensive production more than star-studded Atlanta pulled off a complicated deal for the midfielder. And sure enough, it’s Atlanta listed on D.C. United’s schedule this Sunday, (3 pm ET; ESPN, ESPN Deportes | MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada) with a sellout, packed-to-the-rafters crowd expected.

“I hope that they treat me well, with great memories they’ve had of me and the work that I put in,” Asad said. “But I also have great memories of those fans just always filling the stadium and being a great fanbase. … I’m always going to have the most respect for their group and their fans.”

In D.C., though, Asad finds the opportunity to be a team’s focal point, rather than a supporting cast member behind stars like Josef Martinez, Miguel Almiron among others.

Asad celebrates a goal with ATLUTD midfielder Miguel Almiron in 2017 | USA Today Sports Images

The D.C. midfield will still likely run through their No. 10, Luciano Acosta, while coach Ben Olsen said he will keep Asad mostly in his wide left role.

That’s probably wise, given Asad had better offensive numbers than any D.C. player in 2017 (7g, 13a). And it doesn’t hurt the recruitment process either.

“That’s obviously something as a player that you kind of think about a little bit, and you’re attracted by that treatment that, from Day 1, the club gives you,” Asad said. “But just like in Atlanta, and like I’ve said here before, I’m always going to be focused on the team.”

Olsen doesn’t mind if Asad saw a squad with fewer true stars as a better opportunity.

“I think the last couple years, some players say, yeah, I want to go to D.C. United because I see potential for playing time,” Olsen said. “And that’s OK. I think players are smart, agents are smart. They understand, [if a team] have two starting wide midfielders, [they’re] probably not going to go there.”

On Sunday, Asad will again have the chance to turn his new opportunity into results, as he did scoring his first goal (watch above) for D.C. in a 1-1 draw at Orlando City SC Saturday night.

But if he hits the net again, don’t count on any jubilant pitch-side scenes from the author of the first MLS goal in Atlanta’s history.

“Obviously it’s a really beautiful memory that I have of that experience, that I was lucky enough to be a part of, so I’ll always have that with me and I’ll always think positively about that,” Asad says. “I have great respect for the fans and the people of Atlanta. I don’t see why I would celebrate a goal there if I was to score.”

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