Atlanta United embracing challenge of high-scoring Real Salt Lake

Atlanta United defender Caleb Wiley #26 dribbles during the first half of the match against the D.C. United at Audi Field in Washington,  on Wednesday June 19, 2024. (Photo by Mitch Martin/Atlanta United)

Credit: Mitch Martin/Atlanta United

Credit: Mitch Martin/Atlanta United

Atlanta United defender Caleb Wiley #26 dribbles during the first half of the match against the D.C. United at Audi Field in Washington, on Wednesday June 19, 2024. (Photo by Mitch Martin/Atlanta United)

SALT LAKE CITY — For Atlanta United to improve, interim manager Rob Valentino said Friday that it must play quality teams such as Real Salt Lake and show what it is capable of.

Real Salt Lake is the second-highest scoring team in MLS, with 43 goals, and features 16-goal scorer Cristian Arango, who is giving Lionel Messi a battle in the MVP conversation.

“This is what you want,” Valentino said. “Play teams like this and really show that you’ve got something. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

Atlanta United will need to show focus for 90 minutes that it didn’t have in the first half of Wednesday’s 2-1 loss at New England. The defeat snapped Atlanta United’s four-match unbeaten streak on the road. In key moments, the Five Stripes failed to stay compact with their formation and deny passing lanes, or didn’t stay with a sequence of play until its completion.

“Every team in the league has some dangerous players,” Valentino said. “And if you don’t do things right, they can punish you. And it’s the same with them.”

Trying to contain Arango will be key. Valentino said the striker is experienced, never gets rattled and is always “goal dangerous.”

Part of Atlanta United’s challenge will be that Stian Gregersen, its best one-on-one defender, will miss the match because of yellow-card accumulation.

That’s also part of the challenge that Valentino is embracing.

“They’re tough to play against, and they make things difficult,” he said. “That being said, it’s similar to other teams in this league. You have to find ways that you can poke holes in them or make it difficult for them to attack, and it was a fun process to watch them, and I’m looking forward to tomorrow night.”

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Atlanta United’s 2024 schedule

Feb. 24 Columbus 1, Atlanta United 0

March 9 Atlanta United 4, New England 1

March 17 Atlanta United 2, Orlando 0

March 23 Toronto 2, Atlanta United 0

March 31 Atlanta United 3, Chicago 0

April 6 Atlanta United 1, NYCFC 1

April 14 Atlanta United 2, Philadelphia 2

April 20 Cincinnati 2, Atlanta United 1

April 27 Atlanta United 1, Chicago 1

May 4 Minnesota 2, Atlanta United 1

May 7 Atlanta United 3, Charlotte Independence 0 in U.S. Open Cup

May 11 D.C. United 3, Atlanta United 2

May 15 Cincinnati 1, Atlanta United 0

May 18 Atlanta United 1, Nashville 1

May 21 Atlanta United 0 (5), Charleston 0 (4) in U.S. Open Cup

May 25 LAFC 1, Atlanta United 0

May 29 Atlanta United 3, Miami 1

June 2 Charlotte 3, Atlanta United 2

June 15 Atlanta United 2, Houston 2

June 19 Atlanta United 1, D.C. United 0

June 22 Atlanta United 1, St. Louis 1

June 29 Atlanta United 2, Toronto 1

July 3 New England 2, Atlanta United 1

July 6 at Real Salt Lake, 9:30 p.m.

July 9 vs. Indy Eleven in U.S. Open Cup

July 13 at Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

July 17 vs. NYCFC, 7:30 p.m.

July 20 vs. Columbus, 7:30 p.m.

July 26 vs. D.C. United in Leagues Cup, 7:30 p.m.

Aug. 4 vs. Santos Laguna in Leagues Cup, 4 p.m.

Aug. 24 at L.A. Galaxy, 10:30 p.m.

Aug. 31 at Charlotte, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 14 vs. Nashville, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 18 vs. Miami, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 21 at Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 28 at Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 2 vs. Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 5 vs. Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 19 at Orlando, 6 p.m.