After last week’s disappointing draw at home against Minnesota United, Real Salt Lake is in need of some points with only five more games until the regular season ends. They’ll look to get a result this week on the road against league leaders Atlanta United FC.
These sides have only met once before, with Atlanta visiting Rio Tinto Stadium in April of 2017 during their expansion season. The Five Stripes had no trouble putting the game to bed in a 3-1 victory over the home side, thanks to goals from Hector Villalba, Yamil Asad, and Brandon Vazquez. RSL’s lone goal came from Albert Rusnak in the 69th minute to bring the score to 2-1, but Vazquez’s second-half stoppage time goal was the nail in the coffin as Atlanta left Sandy with all three points.
Real Salt Lake
Record: 13-10-6 (45 points)
Table: 5th place (west), 8th place (overall)
Points per game: 1.55 (9th in MLS)
Most goals: Damir Kreilach (11)
Most assists: Jefferson Savarino (10)
Clean sheets: 7
While RSL was unable to capitalize at home against Minnesota last week and extend their winning streak to four, they’re still in the midst of a current four-game unbeaten streak, dating back to the 2-1 win on the road against Houston.
Notorious for struggling on the road, RSL has surprisingly won their last two games away from home (2-1 at Houston, 6-0 at Colorado). Granted, those two teams weren’t at the top of the table like the next opponent, but RSL has proven that they’re capable of getting results on the road when the pressure is on.
Cautions and injuries
While injuries still continue to plague RSL’s depth — with captain Kyle Beckerman officially listed as questionable after being pulled out of last week’s match due to a hamstring injury — boss Petke still has plenty of talent to pull from to form a starting XI, especially when you look at his ideal front four with Albert Rusnak pulling the strings, Joao Plata and Jefferson Savarino on the wings, and Damir Kreilach at the top, notching an impressive team-high 11 goals this season.
If Kyle isn’t able to play in Atlanta, it puts Petke in a bit of a tough spot, as he’s traditionally started Nick Besler next to Sunny (or paired Kreilach and Sunny together, before Damir broke out as a dedicated striker). Besler has already been filling in at center back in lieu of the injured Marcelo Silva. However, if new signing Nedum Onuoha is ready to go, we could easily see Besler moving up into Kyle’s spot while Onuoha gets his first start at center back next to Justen Glad.
I think we can all agree that we’d rather not see Pablo Ruiz get the holding mid start in Atlanta after his performance against Minnesota last week.
On the yellow card front, four players remain on yellow card accumulation warning: Kyle Beckerman, Marcelo Silva, Brooks Lennon, and Justen Glad. If any of these players receive a yellow card in the next game, they’ll receive a one-game suspension, which is the last thing this team needs during the playoff push.
Atlanta United FC
Record: 18-5-6 (60 points)
Table: 1st place (east), 1st place (overall)
Points per game: 2.07 (1st in MLS)
Most goals: Josef Martinez (30)
Most assists: Miguel Almiron (13), Julian Gressel (13)
Clean sheets: 7
Best in the league
No matter which way you look at it, Atlanta United is the best team in the league this season. They’re on their way to clinching the supporters’ shield — although the Red Bulls are hot on their trail, only four points behind — while they also have a commanding lead in nearly every stat you can find in the table, including goal differential (27), goals scored (63), number of wins (18), and even road wins (10).
Of course, they also house the golden boot leader and inevitable golden boot winner Josef Martinez, who sits at a record-breaking 30 goals this season with five games left to play. The next in line for the golden boot race — if you can really call it a race at this point — is Bradley Wright-Phillips of the New York Red Bulls, with 19 goals on the season.
Comeback in SJ, tired legs
On a positive note for RSL, Atlanta just played a game on the road earlier this week — and struggled — against the league’s worst team San Jose Earthquakes. The Five Stripes saw themselves trailing 3-1 in the 58th minute, with the Quakes looking to sail on to an unexpected victory. Martinez and Almiron both scored in the 70th and 73rd minute, respectively, to tie the game up 3-3.
Just as it looked as if the teams would split the points, Martinez put away a header in the fifth minute of stoppage time to secure a late-game victory with a 4-3 scoreline.
The upside for RSL? Atlanta’s biggest players just went a full 90+ minutes a few days ago, and struggled against the league’s last-place team. If Real Salt Lake hopes to get a result on the road at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, there’s no better time than right now.
Real Salt Lake
OUT: Tony Beltran (knee), Jordan Allen (knee), Alex Horwath (achilles surgery), Demar Phillips (hamstring), David Horst (torn achilles; out for season)
QUESTIONABLE: Marcelo Silva (ankle), Connor Sparrow (knee), Marcelo Silva (ankle), Luis Silva (groin), Kyle Beckerman (hamstring)
RSL: Rimando; Lennon, Glad, Besler, Herrera; Ruiz, Sunny; Savarino, Rusnak, Plata; Kreilach
ATL: Guzan; Larentowicz, Parkhurst, Gonzalez Pirez; Gressel, Nagbe, Remedi, McCann; Almiron; Villalba, Martinez
When: Saturday, September 22, 5:00PM MT
Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium — Atlanta, GA
Weather: 83 degrees, partly cloudy, 61% humidity
Broadcast: KMYU, KSL TV app (streaming), ESPN+ (streaming), ESPN700 (radio)
Referee: Chico Grajeda