Stifling pressure by Atlanta United all over the field led to a 3-1 win over Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. Tito Villalba, Yamil Asad, and the debuting Brandon Vazquez scored Atlanta’s goal. Albert Rusnak scored for RSL. The loss was Real Salt Lake’s first under new manager Mike Petke.
A frantic start to the match saw the Five Stripes pressing RSL’s backline. A poor clearance from goalkeeper Nick Rimando was gathered by left back Greg Garza. His entry pass to midfielder Miguel Almiron led to a shot saved by Rimando. After his first rebound attempt was stuffed, Tito Villalba volleyed his second attempt into the roof of the net to give the visitors the 1-0 lead.
RSL played some of their best soccer late in the first half as they chased an equalizer. Atlanta’s defense, led by defensive midfielders Carlos Carmona and Jeff Larentowicz, prevented the Claret and Cobalt from finding many dangerous opportunities.
In the first minute of the second half, Almiron stole the ball from RSL center back Chris Wingert near the top of the penalty area. He beat an on-rushing Rimando with a short pass to Yamil Asad. Defender Chris Schuler slid in to protect the open net, but Asad calmly dribbled around him and slotted the second goal home.
Mike Petke made some aggressive substitutions to get RSL back in the game, and they found a lifeline through Albert Rusnak’s 69th minute goal. Left back Demar Phillips beat two Atlanta players down the wing to open up the defense. Midfielder Luke Mulholland found Rusnak wide open and his 25-yard shot beat goalkeeper Alec Kann to the far post.
The Five Stripes tightened up after the RSL goal and did well to limit more opportunities. In stoppage time, two substitutes combined to seal Atlanta’s win. Midfielder Julian Gressel’s through ball gave forward Brandon Vazquez a one-on-one opportunity against backup RSL goalkeeper Matt Van Oekel. Vazquez took one touch to his right to beat the goalkeeper and finished into the open net.
After a four game road trip that has seen the team travel nearly 11,000 miles, Atlanta United will be relieved to get home with a win and two draws. The Five Stripes are next in action on Sunday at 3 p.m. at Bobby Dodd Stadium as D.C. United comes to town. D.C. is coming off a 2-2 draw on the road against the New England Revolution.
Atlanta manager Tata Martino on the match:
“The key tonight was we capitalized on our opportunities, we pressured them to make two mistakes, the second one came on a counter attack, but otherwise it was a very even game. We had to pressure them at the top because they have some guys in the midfield, and moving forward that are very fast, and good with the ball, so we need to neutralize right from the start.”
Atlanta forward Brandon Vazquez on his first goal:
“I was confident that we were going to pull through with the game, I had confidence in the team. I knew that we were going to do it, I was very confident. Miguel (Almiron) played a ball through to Julian (Gressel), Julian was running on to the ball, he tripped, and the defender stopped, so I kept running. And I took a touch past the goalkeeper, and that was it.”
RSL manager Mike Petke on Atlanta’s pressure:
“Well let’s just take the first two goals, bad giveaway first of all. The second was perhaps forcing it to the back when we shouldn’t have so all credit to Atlanta but we gave those goals. Which is frustrating but at the end of the day I want these guys to push to play. I want these guys to not just reside to kicking the ball long aimlessly, which at times we did but the only way you are going to improve is by keep pushing the play, keep pushing the play, and keep trying to do something. But the off ball movement wasn’t good tonight and that could have also been put with the first two goals that we got scored on, that could have been a reason.”
- RSL won the possession battle 55-45, but it did not lead to many quality chances. They had eleven total shots with only two of them on target. Meanwhile, Atlanta had nine shots with six of them on target. Half of Atlanta’s shots on target found the back of the net.
- Atlanta is converting nearly 50 percent of its shots on target this season, which is incredibly rare. The Five Stripes have been able to do that because of the quality of the chances they are creating, with many one-on-one opportunities against opposing goalkeepers.
- The game struggled to find a rhythm as both teams struggled with their passing completion percentages. RSL completed 71 percent of their passes while Atlanta completed only 67 percent of theirs.
- Thankfully, no red cards for Atlanta United this week, but they did see four yellow cards.