While the Five Stripes’ historic run of five straight clean sheet victories came to an end over the weekend, Atlanta United (6-4-2) are back on the road to face Real Salt Lake (5-6-1) in another East versus West matchup. The red, black and gold will be hoping they can start another win streak against an RSL side coming off back-to-back 3-goal performances that have pushed them above the playoff line in the West.
Ahead of the Friday night matchup, we broke down the Tools to the Match, presented by The Home Depot.
Crack down on the Creators
Real Salt Lake boasts a fluid attack, filled with quick, technical players that are all capable of scoring from long range or playing the killer pass. The hub in the center of the park is Albert Rusnak, a Manchester City Academy product that leads the team with five goals so far this year. A creative #10, he will be looking to float into the spaces in between the midfield and defense, and connecting the killer pass to the attack. But just as dangerous on the ball are their options on the wing: Sebastian Saucedo, Jefferson Savarino and reigning MLS Rookie of the Year Corey Baird. All three are able to produce opportunities or score themselves –– and they love to move around the field and swap roles to pull the opposing defenses out of position. Atlanta United will have to stay disciplined to avoid leaving open spaces in front of goal.
Defend the DP
RSL has had crafty creators for years, but they’ve added a true center forward to the ranks to finish the chances they create in new DP signing Sam Johnson. The Liberian international has scored four goals already this year since joining the team from the Norwegian league this offseason. He has a keen sense of movement and precise timing of his runs to get behind the defense, has the pace and strength to hold off defenders, and has a ruthless streak in front of goal when he gets the ball inside the box. Atlanta United’s defenders will have to mark him tightly whenever he steps foot inside the penalty box, but more importantly, cut off supply to him from his attacking teammates. If they can isolate him and starve him of service, it will go a long way to eliminate his threat before it ever begins.
Get on Top Early
It’s no secret that soccer is much easier when you take the lead –– it forces teams to come out of their defensive shell, which opens up spaces in behind them. But it’s especially important when you’re in the middle of a congested run of fixtures like Atlanta United are. Getting on the board first lets you absorb pressure and counter attack against a team stretched forward, instead of relentlessly pushing high for a full 90 minutes. Atlanta United had the chances to do that against the Red Bulls, but couldn’t quite find the back of the net. If they can take advantage of an early chance, it will quiet the Rio Tinto Stadium crowd and let them dictate the flow of the game instead of having to expend even more energy chasing the match.
The match is set to kick off Friday at 9:00 p.m. ET from Rio Tinto Stadium in Salt Lake City. You can watch the match on UniMás, stream it live on Twitter or listen in on 92.9 The Game or in Spanish at La Mejor Atlanta. For more details on how to follow along from home, click here.