On Saturday night, Atlanta United finished their four-match road stretch in style as they defeated Real Salt Lake 3-1 behind goals from Tito Villalba, Yamil Asad, and Brandon Vazquez, who made his MLS debut.
The victory at Rio Tinto Stadium moves the expansion side into fourth place in the Eastern Conference with 11 points and 3-2-2 record. Atlanta’s goal scoring has been one of the main storylines of their inaugural season, leading the conference with 17 tallies and leading the league with a +9 goal differential. Saturday’s victory against RSL also adds to Atlanta United’s impressive performance on the road, capturing a league-best eight points from five away matches.
Tata Martino’s lined his side up similar to that of their last match in Montreal, but this week Tyrone Mears and Yamil Asad returned to the lineup. Atlanta’s starting XI against Real Salt Lake: Alec Kann (GK), Greg Garza (LB), Leandro González Pirez (CB), Michael Parkhurst (CB), Tyrone Mears (RB), Carlos Carmona (CM), Jeff Larentowicz (CM), Miguel Almirón (CAM), Tito Villalba (RW), Yamil Asad (LW), and Kenwyne Jones (ST).
It didn’t take long for the visitors to get on the scoreboard and for the sixth time in seven matches, Atlanta captured the first goal of the match. Just 10 minutes in, RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando’s attempted pass was intercepted by Atlanta United at the halfway line and Greg Garza and Yamil Asad combined to slip Miguel Almirón in on goal. Rimando denied the number 10, as well as Tito Villalba’s initial shot on the follow-up, but the Argentine then smashed home his second attempt to give Atlanta the early advantage.
Atlanta looked in control for the rest of the first, but the lone goal from the 23-year-old Argentine remained the difference at half.
After the break, it took no more than 60 seconds for the expansion side to double its lead. Almirón dispossessed RSL defender Chris Wingert, who then found the feet of Asad around a charging Rimando. Displaying his composure, Asad calmly beat a desperate RSL defender and passed the ball into an open net.
However, the home side remained determined to conquer the deficit. In the 69th minute, DP Albert Rusnák fired a low shot from the top of the 18-yard-box to the far corner to beat goalkeeper Alec Kann and bring RSL within one.
Martino made a few subs late on bringing on Julian Gressel, Kevin Kratz, and Brandon Vazquez with the intention of securing the three points. Vazquez, the 18-year-old from Chula Vista, Calif. did just that. After making his MLS debut entering the match in the 90’ + 3’ for Kenwyne Jones, Vazquez ran onto a Gressel through ball that placed him alone with the opposing goalkeeper. The U.S. U-20 international executed the situation as if he’d been there a number of times before, slotting home his first-ever MLS goal and sealing the three points for Atlanta.
“It was an incredible feeling, making my debut in the MLS,” said Vazquez. “It was such an amazing experience, and it's something I'll never forget.”
The victory in Utah marks the end of Atlanta’s four-match road stretch as the expansion side returns home next week to face Eastern Conference opponents D.C. United on Sunday April 30th at 3:00 p.m. ET.