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Tactical Preview: RSL vs Atlanta United FC

RSL travel to Atlanta looking to steal points from the league leaders to keep up in the tight Western Conference playoff race.

MLS: Atlanta United FC at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Following a disappointing draw against below the playoff line Minnesota United last week, RSL is back in action tonight out on the road with a difficult opponent: league-leading Atlanta United FC.

The Claret and Cobalt are going to be looking for a way to redeem themselves for the points they left on the table last week, and what better way to get them back than a win over the Supporter’s Shield leaders? Read on to learn what RSL might be able to do in order to eke out a win away from home.

Real Salt Lake

The RSL offense that was so dynamic and explosive over the last few games came back to Earth last week, scoring only one goal against Minnesota and looking largely anemic through large portions of the game. First thing first, RSL is going to have to get back to their explosive offense if they want to have any chance of coming back from Atlanta with a win. Hopefully the front 4 of Savarino, Rusnak, Plata, and Kreilach have shaken off whatever rust they had last week and are ready to get out and score some goals this week!

Defense is where RSL is going to really have to be focused this week. I hope to see new RSL signing Nedum Onouha step into the lineup and bring his experience and skill to the backline. A veteran presence could be exactly what the doctor ordered to take our backline from good to great.

Tactically, I don’t expect to see anything too different than what we have seen so far this year. The biggest question going into this game might be the fitness of Kyle Beckerman, as he exited the Minnesota game early with some type of hamstring injury. If he isn’t able to go, then it will be very interesting to see who Mike Petke has fill in his shoes. A few possibilities to consider are Nick Besler, Luke Mulholland, and Kreilach, with Corey Baird taking over the striker role. I am not certain which way Petke will go, but the fan in me would love to see Mulholland get some time on the field, so I’m going to lean that way for now.

Atlanta United FC

Atlanta United come into this game 4 points ahead of the New York Red Bulls in the Supporter’s Shield standings with 5 games to play. They are feeling pretty good about their chances to win it, and honestly you can’t really blame them. Through 29 games, they have scored 63 goals while allowing just 36, amassing a 18-5-6 overall record good for 60 points.

Atlanta typically play in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with the attack spearheaded by MLS Golden Boot Leader Josef Martinez, who has scored a record-breaking 30 goals so far this season. Tracking and slowing him down is a tall task to ask of any centerback pairing.

Atlanta are also good with the ball, averaging 55.8% of possession at home this year, with an 83.5% overall passing accuracy. I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see them control good portions of the game, with RSL playing more defensively and then looking to break out in transition when the ball turns over.

Two quick things about Atlanta that may bring RSL fans some hope. 1st, Atlanta played in San Jose Wednesday night, while RSL had a full week to prepare for this game. Short rest plus a cross country trip may result in some tired legs from Atlanta’s starters. 2nd, Atlanta struggled for a large amount of that game against bottom of the table San Jose, but came back from 3-1 down late to secure a 4-3 win. I expect that Mike Petke will have gone through the tape of that game and identified what San Jose did well to break Atlanta down, so hopefully we see our attack be able to do the same thing.

Expected Lineup

GK: Rimando

DF: Lennon, Glad, Onouha, Herrera

MF: Mulholland, Sunny

MF: Savarino, Rusnak, Plata

ST: Kreilach

RSL’s keys to the match

  1. Play smart, play disciplined. If RSL wants to get a positive result in this game, they are going to have to be mentally tuned in for the full 90 minutes. We have seen the team turn off for a few minutes in games before, and if they do that in this game Atlanta will surely punish them.
  2. Commitment to counterattacking. Another thing that will make or break this game is the team’s commitment on counterattacks. If the ball turns over and you see 8 RSL jerseys immediately breaking for goal, you’ll know the whole team is committed to getting a win and reaching the goal of making the MLS playoffs.