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RSL vs. Atlanta United: Three winners, three losers

RSL will hope this was a learning experience.

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Atlanta United FC Adam Hagy -USA TODAY Sports

Real Salt Lake’s 2-0 loss to Atlanta United FC on Saturday was perhaps not the most unexpected thing in the world, but it was yet another road loss for a team that has struggled to put together much away from home.

Loser: RSL’s playoff positioning

I still think RSL will make it into the playoffs, but our positioning will continue in a tenuous state if we can’t pull off results on the road. This is really only a half-loss, though, because Portland managed to lose to Minnesota United on the road, and Seattle lost their first game after a nine-game winning streak on Wednesday. It almost makes it a nullified weekend. Almost.

Winner: Aaron Herrera

Herrera had himself a tidy game against Atlanta United, and that continues to be the theme of his RSL career so far. The rookie has been playing well above his station, and I suspect he’ll continue playing regularly until the end of the season. His best highlight? A goal-line clearance, which showed him being very much in the right place at the right time.

Loser: RSL’s bench depth

I know the thing everyone wanted to talk about was Mike Petke’s lack of substitutions, but the more I think about it, the more I don’t see clearly who would have helped. The lone exception, for me, is Corey Baird, though I do think the ex-Stanford striker is not in a particularly good run of form at current.

But really, looking at RSL’s bench when the club needs an attacking presence is a bit like staring into the abyss, save one or two good players. It won’t get better if those players don’t get minutes, of course, which leaves me wondering what the right approach really is.

Winner: The Post

It’s unusual that the post gets as much action as it did in one game, but three times the ball hit the post, and once it led to a goal. Good on you, post. You certainly had a lot of time, and your xG was probably pretty high.

Loser: RSL’s throw-in defense

It led to a goal that Mike Petke said we gifted Atlanta, and you simply cannot dispute that. Real Salt Lake has to be better from throw-ins, and the sort of loss of concentration we’ve seen is difficult to stomach.

Winner: RSL moving forward

OK, so this isn’t my thing, it’s actually sort of Mike Petke’s thing. It’s worth bringing up, though. Petke talked in his post-match about how it was a “great learning experience” for the younger players on the team, and I actually think he makes a good point. The key line, for me:

This team forced us to play a hell of a lot faster than we have.

See, we always knew it was going to be tough, and we certainly should have understood the uphill nature of it. We’re all disappointed that we didn’t capitalize, because frankly, it looked like we could — but Atlanta at home is always going to be difficult.