Atlanta United was beaten by a buzzer-beater.
With the game’s last kick, a 20-yard strike from Jefferson Savarino in the fourth minute of stoppage time lifted Real Salt Lake to a 2-1 victory on Friday.
It was a gut-punch for Atlanta United, which appeared to have earned a draw with a goal in the 78th minute by Josef Martinez.
“It’s so hard when you get nothing out of Salt Lake,” Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer said. “It’s very hard.”
A draw would have helped to make the more than 9,000 miles traveled for three road games in the past 12 days a satisfactory result. Instead, the team lost its second consecutive game for the first time since the 2017 season.
“Anytime you concede in the 90th minute, last kick of the game, it’s tough,” Atlanta United captain Michael Parkhurst said. “It was a long trip out here. We played hard and fought for a while to get back into the game and tie it. We would have come out of here 1-1 and been fine with that.”
The defeat keeps Atlanta United (6-5-2) at 20 points and fourth in the East.
As Real Salt Lake was building toward the final goal, de Boer said he was yelling for his players to foul while the ball was in Real Salt Lake’s end to stop the clock and give his team a chance to set up its defense.
As the ball moved down the field, it created a domino effect, de Boer said. No one attempted to foul until Leandro Gonzalez Pirez tried several times to tackle Savarino as he moved from left to right parallel to the top of the penalty box. But Savarino kept shrugging off his attempts and no other Atlanta United player stepped toward Savarino to help Gonzalez Pirez. Savarino finally created enough space to get off a shot that arrowed back across the penalty box and into the upper left corner of Brad Guzan’s goal.
Parkhurst said he couldn’t hear de Boer’s instruction, but agreed that a foul was needed in the run-up before Savarino received the ball.
“We can blame ourselves for that,” de Boer said.
De Boer selected a lineup that’s unique this season. Dion Pereira earned his first start on the left wing, replacing the injured Hector Villalba. Darlington Nagbe moved up the field into the attacking midfield role normally held by Pity Martinez. Parkhurst started at right fullback for the third time this season.
But Real Salt Lake looked sharper early as Atlanta United lacked a spark. Real Salt Lake took a 1-0 lead on a goal from Sebastian Saucedo, who wasn’t tracked as he moved left to right. When he neared the middle of the pitch, 20 yards from a goal, he curled a right-footed shot into the right corner past a diving Guzan. Jeff Larentowicz let Saucedo have the space and Gonzalez Pirez was slow to come out and close down his shooting angle.
Having put just one shot on goal through 57 minutes, de Boer made a double substitution with Pity Martinez and Franco Escobar on for Larentowicz and Brek Shea. Escobar came in on the right with Parkhurst moving to the left in place of Shea.
The moves worked.
Atlanta United tied the game when Escobar took a pass from Pity Martinez that was slightly behind him, got the ball into a playable position, and hit a pass across to a sliding Josef Martinez. It was his team-leading sixth goal this season. Escobar and Pity Martinez were given assists.
It was Atlanta United’s first goal in open play in 343 minutes.
Atlanta United will finish its stretch of eight games in 28 days when it hosts Minnesota on Wednesday and Chicago on June 1. Atlanta United has never lost three consecutive games. It has twice lost two consecutive the most recent time when it lost at Vancouver on June 3, 2017 and then was beaten by Chicago on June 10. The team is 0-7-1 across all competitions this season when it concedes the first goal.
“We have to be very disappointed that we don’t get a point out of this game but there are still a lot of positive things that we can build on,” de Boer said. “We have two games that we have to take advantage of.”
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