When Atlanta United came into existence last season, the club started a tradition of driving a golden spike down after scoring goals.
The top club in Major League Soccer pounded both the golden spike and Real Salt Lake Saturday evening as United cruised to a 2-0 victory at Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Julian Gressel and Hector Villalba scored as the best offense in MLS put constant pressure on Nick Rimando’s goal. United leads the league in points (63), goals (65) and goal differential (29), and they showed their quality on Saturday in front of 72,017 fans.
“They're a real good team, especially at home,” RSL captain Kyle Beckerman told KMYU after the game. “We had to be perfect tonight.”
The loss keeps RSL in fifth place in the Western Conference, and it is in danger of falling into the sixth (the final playoff position) if Seattle Sounders FC gets a win at the L.A. Galaxy on Sunday.
Real Salt Lake played aggressively, attacking Atlanta, and did have more possession (54 to 46 percent), but United outshot RSL 14-8.
“Listen, this is the best team in the league,” RSL coach Mike Petke told KMYU. “They did everything I asked of them and the work rate was phenomenal, but it is a tough place to come in. Obviously, the second goal we gave them. The first goal you could argue as well that we just didn’t have in that single moment, we didn’t have the fight that we needed, but they are a quality team. At the end of the day, it is a great learning experience for the guys, especially our young guys.”
Down 2-0 in the 77th minute, Petke sent attacker Sebastian Saucedo to replace defender Brooks Lennon. That left RSL with only three defenders, but the team’s best spell of play came in the final 10 minutes. While Rimando made two spectacular saves late in the game, his former U.S. Men’s National Team teammate Brad Guzan also made an impressive stop on Albert Rusnak’s heavily deflected shot in the 85th minute.
“There’s no difference in losing 1-0 or 5-0,” Petke said of the attacking strategy. “You should always be looking to learn.”
After knocking on the door for most of the first half, Atlanta’s Miguel Almiron made his way to the end line and found Gressel arriving late into the box. The unmarked German midfielder volleyed the ball into the far-side netting of the goal from 20 yards out. It was Gressel’s third goal of the season.Comment on this story
The 24-year old picked up his 12th assist of the season in the second half when his throw-in found Hector Villalba, who one-timed a shot off the right post onto the diving Rimando and into the goal. Villalba nearly had two other goals, hitting the post in the 20th minute and somehow missing from just a few yards out several minutes later.
Real Salt Lake travels to Kansas City on Sept. 30 to take on Sporting in a Sunday afternoon match. Petke said Saturday’s game will help them prepare for SKC.
“This team forced us to play a lot faster than we have been playing, and Kansas City will be the same,” he said.
After next Sunday's game, RSL will host the Portland Timbers (Oct. 6) and New England Revolution (Oct. 18) before traveling to Portland (Oct. 21) for the final game of the regular season.