Real Salt Lake head coach Mike Petke has said that over the previous two weeks, his team had prepared for Atlanta United more than any other team this season. That’s how tough an opponent Atlanta has proven to be over the course of the year.
But after a scoreless first 37 minutes, Atlanta put a damper on all that preparation. RSL could not overcome Atlanta’s incessant attacking style and lost 2-0 on Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Ga.
“We had to be perfect tonight, and we weren’t,” RSL midfielder Kyle Beckerman said during the postgame broadcast. “But I think there’s a lot to be proud of, a lot of hard work and something to build on.”
The loss for RSL did not affect their playoff positioning — they are still fifth in the Western Conference with 45 points.
Atlanta midfielder Julian Gressel gave Atlanta a 1-0 lead in the 37th minute after receiving a cross-pitch pass from Miguel Almirón, who dribbled all the way near the end line on the left side of the field before making the pass.
“I thought we defended really well in the first half,” RSL defender Brooks Lennon said on the television broadcast at halftime. “Just honestly an unlucky goal.”
Atlanta gained separation in the 61st minute with Héctor Villalba’s goal. Gressel’s throw-in appeared to be meant for Josef Martínez, but he ducked and let the ball sail past him right to Villalba.
Villalba’s shot hit the post, bounced off goalkeeper Nick Rimando’s back, and flew straight into the goal for a 2-0 advantage.
RSL mustered only eight shots for the entire 90 minutes, three of which were on target. Atlanta, on the other hand, had 14 shots, and eight of them were on goal.
“This is the best team in the league, toughest place to play in the league,” Petke said of Atlanta after the game. “I’m proud of my guys. … They did everything I could ask for.”
Atlanta put the pressure on RSL all night. In the 20th minute, Villalba settled the ball with his left foot and shot with his right. Rimando appeared to get his right fingertips on the ball, which pinged off the left post and back to Rimando.
Rimando proved a bright spot for RSL, amassing six saves and catching a cross. RSL also kept Martínez— the league’s top goal-scorer — at bay, as he did not score Saturday.