Atlanta United 3, Real Salt Lake 1: 5 observations

Real Salt Lake midfielder Danilo Acosta (25) goes for the ball along with Atlanta United midfielder Yamil Asad (11) in an MLS soccer match in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, April 22, 2017. (Rick Egan/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)
Real Salt Lake midfielder Danilo Acosta (25) goes for the ball along with Atlanta United midfielder Yamil Asad (11) in an MLS soccer match in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, April 22, 2017. (Rick Egan/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)

With help from two poor passes by Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando, Atlanta United picked up a 3-1 win on Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium and will come home with a respectable five points from its four-game road stretch.

It wasn’t a complete performance by the MLS expansion team, but goals from Hector Villalba in the first half and Yamil Asad and Brandon Vazquez in the second were enough to create some momentum heading into next week’s home game against D.C. United. It will be Atlanta United’s (3-2-2) first game at Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium since defeating Chicago 4-0 on March 18. That was also its last victory.

Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino said five points from the road games are good, but they aren’t as good as they could be after the team dropped a point with the last-second loss to Montreal last week.

“We are really looking forward to returning home and playing in front of a full stadium with the full crowd supporting us,” Martino said.

Here are five observations about the game:

The starting 11. Martino went with the strongest, most experienced starting 11 possible to end the four-game road stretch. Martino elected to start Jeff Larentowicz over rookie Julian Gressel, who started the season's first six games. In addition, right fullback Tyrone Mears started after being a late scratch for last week's game at Montreal.

Martino said the pairting of Jeff Larentowicz and Carlos Carmona as holding midfielders has been working well, which is why he elected to bring Gressel off the bench.

Asad also returned to the starting lineup after missing last week’s game because of a red card received two weeks in the 2-2 draw at Toronto.

First goal. After looking very sloppy in the first nine minutes, Atlanta United broke through following a poor pass from Rimando down the middle of the field. After Rimando stopped a shot by Miguel Almiron, who was steaming down the center of the penalty box following an intelligent pass from Yamil Asad, the ball came to Villalba, whose first shot bounced off Rimando and back to him. Villalba didn't miss the second time in scoring his fourth goal this season. It came in the 10th minute.

Second goal. After the first goal, Atlanta United played poorly for the remainder of the first half. Captain Michael Parkhurst said the team wasn't winning first or second balls when it tried to play long.

But Real Salt Lake helped the team out again in the first minute of the second half when Rimando's short pass was hit too hard for Real Salt Lake defender Chris Wingert to handle. Almiron used his shoulder to push Wingert aside, control the ball and then completed a short pass to Asad, who had to only avoid a sliding defender and pass the ball into an open net to give Atlanta United a 2-0 lead in the 46th minute. It was Asad's second goal this season.

The goal was vital because it gave Atlanta United some breathing room and confidence.

Real Salt Lake strikes. After not being to capitalize on two good chances down Villalba's right side later in the second half, Atlanta United paid when Real Salt Lake scored in the 70th minute on a goal by Albert Rusnak, who expertly slammed a right-footed shot into the lower left corner.

Atlanta United holds on. After giving up a goal in the final seconds of last week's 2-1 loss to Montreal, Atlanta United looked nervous against Real Salt Lake but it held on to earn the three points. For most of the final 15 minutes Atlanta United couldn't connect enough passes to get out of its own half.

Michael Parkhurst said the team was experiencing the same issues in the second half as in the first, but they kept the ball in front of them.

In the game’s final seconds, Vazquez, in his first MLS action, ran onto a through pass and scored the easy goal. Vazquez found out he was going to be in the 18 during warm-ups.

“Miguel (Almiron) played a ball through to Julian (Gressel), who was running onto the ball,” Vazquez said. “He tripped. The defender stopped and I kept running and I took a touch past the goalkeeper and was there to slide it in.”

The 18-year-old didn’t even get a chance to tell his parents in California that there was a chance that he would see his first MLS action. He said after the game that he knows his phone was filled with notifications, but he hadn’t had a chance to check them.

“In the last two games we’ve kind of let points slip away from us,” Martino said. “Tonight I thought we played well, especially with the substitutions Real Salt Lake made. Their coach put in some really attacking players at the end. We were able to overcome it.”

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