Atlanta United are back at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Wednesday night to take on Real Salt Lake. It will be the second consecutive Western Conference opponent for the 5-Stripes. Atlanta is coming off a home defeat to Austin FC, while Real Salt Lake earned a 2-2 draw with Colorado Rapids last time out. Entering the match, Atlanta sits six points below the Eastern Conference playoff line, while Salt Lake enters third in the Western Conference. Let’s take a look at the Tools to the Match presented by The Home Depot against Real Salt Lake.
Create energy, excitement, enthusiasm by scoring first
Atlanta United’s players and staff are looking to turn the page quickly following last Saturday’s performance. With 16 matches remaining in the regular season, there are still plenty of points up for grabs. The good news is that over the past two seasons, the 5-Stripes have only dropped back-to-back home matches once before (7/17-7/24/2021). In club history, Atlanta owns a record of 16-4-2 (W-L-T) against Western Conference opponents at home.
The team has to bring energy from the opening whistle and create that excitement and enthusiasm that will spring over to the fans. One way to create that spark is by scoring the first goal. “Goals change games” is a phrase that captain Brad Guzan has preached for years here in Atlanta. This year is no different for the 5-Stripes. When the team scores first, Atlanta is 5-2-2 including 4-0-2 (W-L-T) at home. Scoring that first goal will be critical in winning these next two home matches and that could go a long way to turning the momentum around.
Cut off supply to Salt Lake’s attack
Real Salt Lake have had an excellent start to their season. They sit in third place in the Western Conference coming into Wednesday night’s match. They feature a balanced attack with five players sharing the team lead with three goals each. Salt Lake also has a dynamic midfield trio in Justin Meram, Pablo Ruiz and Maikel Chang. Meram and Ruiz lead the team with 26 key passes, while Ruiz and Chang are tied for the team lead with five assists each. Most importantly, each of them have played 17 or more matches this season which has given RSL stability in the middle of the park.
Atlanta’s midfield will be key on Wednesday night in controlling this trio and not allowing them the time and space to catch Atlanta’s defense out of position on the counter.
Be more solid defensively
Atlanta United head coach Gonzalo Pineda acknowledged after the match against Austin that the team needs to shift some of its focus this week to the defensive side of the ball.
“I feel like it’s not a secret, we have to do better defensively. I will try to re-evaluate how I approach the team style, because at times we still want to be on the front foot. But obviously, we are conceding a lot of goals.”
One way to be more solid defensively is for each individual to win their duels. Atlanta United ranks seventh in the league with a 51.6% duel success rate. In three of Atlanta’s five wins this season, the team has posted a duel success rate of 53.7% or higher.
Fans can tune in to the meeting between Atlanta United and Real Salt Lake locally on Bally Sports South with kickoff set for 7:30pm ET. Click here to learn all the ways to watch, listen and live stream Wednesday's match.