Perhaps Atlanta United should hold more team meetings.
A game after a clear-the-air meeting following a loss to Austin, Ronaldo Cisneros scored two goals to help Atlanta United defeat Real Salt Lake 2-1 on Wednesday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
It was the team’s second win in its past nine games and offered a path to earn more points in its remaining 15 games thanks to a formation change to a back five and more discipline by the players within the formation. Atlanta United (6-8-5) will host Orlando on Sunday.
“I wanted to see that fight as a team and today, I think we did everything as a team,” manager Gonzalo Pineda said.
The victory was everything that last week’s 3-0 loss to Austin wasn’t, which resulted in a 70-minute team meeting in the locker room immediately after. Atlanta United played with confidence. It didn’t lose that confidence when Real Salt Lake cut into its lead. Players covered for each other on defense and the space offered in the front of formation was exploited very well with runs made throughout the game.
Atlanta United outshot Real Salt Lake, 14-10, put more shots on goal, 7-4, and created more chances, 10-4.
“I think we’re pleased with the function of the team and to be able to get three points and put us back on a path so we can qualify for the playoffs,” Cisneros said. “So we’re happy with the points and we just need to stay on this this path and show it in the next games.”
Atlanta United’s starting lineup featured a formation change and a few different choices from the 11 that began last week’s 3-0 loss to Austin. Josef Martinez and Franco Ibarra weren’t selected to start but were in the 19, replaced by Marcelino Moreno, and Juan Jose Purata, one of three centerbacks along with Alan Franco and George Campbell in a back-five formation. The wingbacks were Caleb Wiley and Aiden McFadden. The central midfielders were Matheus Rossetto and Amar Sejdic. Paired with Moreno was Thiago Almada, with Cisneros at striker. Rocco Rios Novo started in goal.
Atlanta United took a 1-0 lead on a goal by Cisneros in the seventh minute. He was played in behind Real Salt Lake’s defense by Almada. Cisneros rounded the goalkeeper by switching the ball to his left foot and scored from 12 yards. It was Cisneros’ fifth goal this season and Almada’s fifth assist.
It was also the start the team wanted because in its history it is 72-13-17 when scoring first.
Cisneros increased Atlanta United’s lead to 2-0 in the 33rd minute with his second goal. Rossetto created a turnover in Real Salt Lake’s defensive third. His deflection of a pass went to Cisneros who again struck the ball with his weaker left foot, this time putting the shot into the lower right corner. It was Rossetto’s first assist in his Atlanta United career.
Real Salt Lake cut its deficit to 2-1 on a header by Johan Kappelhoff, who was unmarked in the box in the 37th minute. Former Atlanta United player Justin Meram, who wasn’t pressured, was credited with the assist. McFadden was stuck trying to defend two players on the cross because Real Salt Lake had more runners than Atlanta United had defenders.
In another positive sign for the team, which has typically struggled when something bad has happened to it during games, the Five Stripes made it through the rest of the half without conceding another goal and continued to look lively in attack.
Atlanta United 2, Real Salt Lake 1
Atlanta United outshot Real Salt Lake, 10-5, had more shots on goal, 6-2, and created more chances, 8-3, in the first half.
Real Salt Lake used all five of its subs by the 68th minute of the second half in an attempt to bring on fresh legs and find a tying goal. Atlanta United had yet to use a sub but Pineda quickly brought on Franco Ibarra in the 71st minute as a counter-move. He came on for Almada, who finished with six chances created, two shy of tying the franchise record.
“There was space and I think the the opponent also was was giving us that space,” Almada said. “So we were able to take advantage.”
Pineda followed that by subbing in Martinez and Machop Chol for McFadden and Cisneros in the 77th minute. Sosa replaced Sejdic in the 82nd minute.
Real Salt Lake kept the ball around Atlanta United’s 18-yard box for the game’s final minutes but the Five Stripes’ defense held, which hasn’t been the case in many past games.
“You’ve seen many, many times how we were giving goals at the end, just because of those second balls, the second action, the rebounds, all that,” Pineda said. “Do they show that everyone was concentrating? Everyone was doing what they have to do to close out the game. And I think they did a fantastic job.”
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Atlanta United’s 2022 MLS schedule
Feb. 27 Atlanta United 3, Sporting KC 1
March 5 Colorado 3, Atlanta United 0
March 13 Atlanta United 2, Charlotte 1
March 19 Atlanta United 3, Montreal 3
April 2 Atlanta United 1, D.C. United 0
April 10 Charlotte 1, Atlanta United 0
April 16 Atlanta United 0, Cincinnati 0
April 24 Miami 2, Atlanta United 1
April 30 Montreal 2, Atlanta United 1
May 7 Atlanta United 4, Chicago 1
May 15 Atlanta United 2, New England 2
May 21 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2
May 28 Columbus 2, Atlanta United 1
June 19 Atlanta United 2, Miami 0
June 25 Toronto 2, Atlanta United 1
June 30 New York Red Bulls 2, Atlanta United 1
July 3 Atlanta United 2, NYCFC 2
July 9 Austin 3, Atlanta United 0
July 13 Atlanta United 2, Real Salt Lake 1
Sunday vs. Orlando, 3 p.m., ABC
July 24 at L.A. Galaxy, 9:30 p.m., FS1
July 30 at Chicago, 5 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
August 6 vs. Seattle, 3 p.m., ABC
August 13 at Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m. BSSO/BSSE
August 17 vs. New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
August 21 at Columbus, 5:30 p.m., FS1
August 28 vs. D.C. United, 4 p.m., UNIV
August 31 at Philadelphia, 7 p.m., FS1
Sept. 4 at Portland, 5:30 p.m., FOX
Sept. 10 vs. Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
Sept. 14 at Orlando, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
Sept 17 vs. Philadelphia, 3:30 p.m., UniMas
Oct. 1 at New England, 1 p.m., UniMas
Oct. 9 vs. NYCFC, TBD, BSSO/BSSE