Atlanta United loses momentum in road swing

Will face Indy Eleven on Tuesday in U.S. Open Cup
Atlanta United Interim Head Coach Rob Valentino during the match against the Real Salt Lake at America First Field in Sandy, UT on Saturday July 6, 2024. (Photo by Mitch Martin/Atlanta United)

Credit: Mitch Martin/Atlanta United

Credit: Mitch Martin/Atlanta United

Atlanta United Interim Head Coach Rob Valentino during the match against the Real Salt Lake at America First Field in Sandy, UT on Saturday July 6, 2024. (Photo by Mitch Martin/Atlanta United)

SANDY, Utah -- Momentum that was developing for Atlanta United fizzed away in back-to-back road losses, punctuated by a season-high goals allowed in a 5-2 loss at Real Salt Lake on Saturday.

Not only did Atlanta United give up a season-high in goals, it conceded three goals from set-pieces in addition to the third-fastest goal scored against it in franchise history. The results and mental mistakes that contributed to the firing of Gonzalo Pineda resurfaced under interim manager Rob Valentino.

The team flew home from Utah in the middle of the night and has two days to prepare to face Indy Eleven in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup on Tuesday at Kennesaw State. The Open Cup may be the team’s best chance at winning a trophy this season. It fell below the playoff line following the two losses and, unless it can get transfers in soon to replace Giorgos Giakoumakis and Thiago Almada, seems unlikely to go far in the upcoming Leagues Cup.

To get back on track, and give itself a chance, Dax McCarty said he and his teammates need to show their character.

“Make sure that the mistakes that happened in these two road games don’t happen again,” he said. “We really tightened things up, especially on the road. Defensively, staying compact, and we let that slip in these last two games. And it’s little things that we can do better individually, but also collectively.”

It could have been worse. Both New England and Real Salt Lake had goals wiped away because of offside calls.

Galling about the results and performances is that Atlanta United outplayed New England in the second half in Foxborough, Mass, and largely outplayed Real Salt Lake in the first half on Saturday. The work that had helped the team create a four-match unbeaten streak seemed to be paying off.

But the issues, particularly decision-making and focus, that have dogged this team for seasons and may have been tamped down during the unbeaten run came back in those two matches.

The Revs’ goals happened because Atlanta United failed to make a tackle or follow a runner.

Real Salt Lake’s goals were the result of “pick your adventure” type defending on set pieces.

Real Salt Lake scored in the game’s 43rd second because two players were open yards from goal in the 18-yard box.

Atlanta United rallied with a goal from Saba Lobjanidze, one of eight shots compared to Real Salt Lake’s two in the first half.

And then came the set pieces for Real Salt Lake. The first goal scored was unlucky for Atlanta United. The ball bounced around in the box until it was slammed home by Braian Ojeda in the 59th minute.

The second perhaps epitomized Atlanta United’s efforts on defense this season. Cristian Arango, the league’s leading scorer, was fouled 25 yards from goal on the right side of the pitch. Both teams prepared for the free kick. During that time, Arango set himself up on the left edge of Real Salt Lake’s attacking line, yards from the top of the 18-yard box. He then instructed a teammate to come take his place, and he moved farther left to set a new end of the line. That teammate effectively picked Atlanta United’s Brooks Lennon, preventing him from getting to Arango, giving him space to run onto the free kick and head it into the goal’s lower right corner in the 68th minute.

Alexandros Katranis was one of two Real Salt Lake players open near the top of the 18-yard box on the third goal. Katranis hit a curling shot into the right corner to put Atlanta United into a 3-1 hole. Jay Fortune could be seen making a late dash toward Katranis. It wasn’t clear if Katranis was Fortune’s to defend or if he was the only one who recognized the danger, albeit too late, and was moving to try to thwart it. Valentino said after the game he didn’t want to go into the details and responsibilities each player has when defending free kicks.

“It’s little things that make a big difference in games like this, in games where it’s there for us,” McCarty said. “It was definitely there for us to win this game tonight. We let it slip and we let it go with obviously, poor set-piece defending and not a great start to the second half. So not a lot of time to soak, learn from it move on and get ready for the Open Cup.”

Atlanta United has allowed nine goals from set pieces this season, according to That’s tied for fourth-most in MLS. It has yet to score one.

Executing set pieces will be an easy way for Indy Eleven to upset Atlanta United on Tuesday. To win, and regain momentum, Atlanta United must keep its focus.

“The best thing about it is that we got another game, we get to go play another game right away,” Valentino said. “I’m excited for it. I take it as a challenge. It’s difficult. No one ever said this is easy. If it was easy, everybody would be doing this stuff. No time to feel sorry for ourselves.

“I’m not gonna be somebody that lets outcomes dictate how I am and how we are. It’s important. I understand that we have to get results and I do understand that but like I need to look at what we can actually change at the moment. This is for me, we gave this one away.”

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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 Real Salt Lake 5, Atlanta United 2

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.