This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Sandy • It was as if Mike Petke looked into a crystal ball, and saw the last thing he wanted to. A day before Real Salt Lake fell at home at the hands of the lightning-quick, big-money spending expansion franchise Atlanta United 3-1 Saturday evening, the RSL coach laid out a blueprint his team had to follow.
At the top of that blueprint: Solving Atlanta's unrelenting high-press that, when executed correctly, throws off any team. RSL, Petke said, couldn't afford to let Atlanta to get comfortable. If it did, he said Friday, "it's going to crush us."
Petke wasn't wrong.
At times, Atlanta ran wild on RSL on Saturday night. The MLS rookies didn't consistently open up RSL with ease, they were just insistent. That persistent hustle threw RSL off its game, and it paid with its second home loss of the season.
"All credit to Atlanta," Petke said afterward, "but we gave those goals, which is frustrating."
RSL made it interesting late. Albert Rusnák finished off what was a fantastic solo effort from left back Demar Phillips. Phillips' 30-yard run allowed Joao Plata and Luke Mulholland to ping the ball around Atlanta's box. And Rusnák eventually finished with ease from 20 yards out in the 69th minute.
But the damage had already been done.
Less than a minute into the second half, Atlanta's relentlessness took a chunk out of RSL. Already holding a 1-0 lead, Atlanta stripped defender Chris Wingert of a pass out of the back by goalkeeper Nick Rimando. The press by Atlanta allowed midfielder Miguel Almirón to dribble by Rimando and leave it off for Yamil Asad, who finished on an empty net to put Atlanta up 2-0 in the 46th minute.
"It wasn't difficult," forward Yura Movsisyan said. "It's just we weren't sharp. Simple as that. When you're not sharp against a really good team, you pay for it. When you give them goals, it's difficult to come back from."
The stacked expansion franchise showed why its intro into the league hasn't been a difficult one early on. Argentina forward Hector Villalba capitalized on a poor pass out of the back from Rimando to put Atlanta United up 1-0 in the ninth minute.
Rimando's clearance attempt let Atlanta return to play back down the center of the field. Almirón ran in unmarked, but his point-blank shot was saved by Rimando. The ball deflected wide to Villalba, who had his initial close-range shot blocked by Rimando, but the Atlanta forward's persistence paid off as he scooped the ball into the back of the net.
RSL's injury-riddled year continued as Rimando left in the second half due to an injury picked up on a later save on Almirón.
Atlanta tacked one on in the final seconds as substitute Brandon Vazquez rounded backup goalie Matt VanOekel and made it 3-1.
"It's definitely a well-drilled team, and they got the better of us at times," midfielder Luke Mulholland said, "but I didn't think they outplayed us completely, to be honest."
R Atlanta capitalizes on two RSL mistakes out of the back with two goals.
• Albert Rusnák scores his second goal of 2017 to pull RSL within one in the 69th minute.
• RSL (2-4-2) goes on the road next Saturday to face rival Sporting Kansas City, which is fourth in the West with 12 points.