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Real Salt Lake 1-3 Atlanta United: What We Learned

Atlanta United get back to winning ways to close a brutal 4-game road trip.

MLS: Atlanta United FC at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta United won for the first time in more than a month Saturday night in Salt Lake City, downing Real Salt Lake 3-1. Here’s what we learned:

Atlanta’s energy still surprises opposition teams

For the second time this season, Atlanta has scored inside the first two minutes of the second half (and have scored twice more in the first four minutes of the first half). It may not be enough to be considered a trend by a mathematician, but they’re linked when you analyze how the goals were scored. In each instance, it’s simply a matter of the opposition defense looking a step off the pace and not physically and mentally switched on to deal with Atlanta’s hectic style of play. Saturday, it was the press that surprised Real Salt Lake defenders, who looked like they were still in warmups. They dwelled far too long on the ball, and United eventually forced a turnover deep in the RSL half leading to Atlanta’s second goal of the game.

Tata Martino was right to drop Julian Gressel

Julian Gressel started Saturday’s game from the bench for the first time this season, and it’s hard to argue after the fact that it wasn’t the right call by the manager. Not only is Gressel inexperienced and logging minutes at a rapid clip, but his quality has significantly regressed over the last few weeks. The combination of these things means he’s a perfect candidate to drop from the XI in an effort to get him to affect the game in a different way. And indeed, he did. Martino brought him on as a late game sub, and he was effective (even though it wasn’t pretty the entire time) in seeing the game out, culminating with his assist to Brandon Vazquez’s game-sealing goal. Not everything he tried came off. In fact, his touches in his first 5 minutes on the field were generally poor, but the thing about Gressel is that he’s tactically aware, which allows him to be in the right place at the right time.

Atlanta is in fine shape following brutal road stretch

Thank God it’s over. This 4-game road stretch that just concluded is about as bad of a 4-game period as you can have in this league. To take 5 points from that stretch — and to honestly say we were unlucky not to take more — is a huge boost for the team’s overall confidence.

Think about it this way… Imagine for work, no matter what you do, that you had business trips to Seattle, then Toronto, then home and back to Canada in Montreal (customs, ugh), and then back across the country to Utah. That would be a lot of traveling for an accountant, let alone a professional athlete. And it’s worth reminding that these guys are not allowed to fly on chartered jets, per league rules. To be able to compete at such a high level after those long trips, and all without your top goalscorer is a hell of an accomplishment.

Leandro Gonzalez Pirez is an incredible talent

Who would’ve thought that Atlanta would have one of the best CB pairings in MLS this season? With all the attention shifted to the attacking prospects in our ranks, it makes it even more impressive that Leandro Gonzalez Pirez is standing out as one of Atlanta’s best players. You don’t often categorize play from a central defender as “sensational,” but this is just that. Bravo.

Brandon Vazquez made an impact in his debut

Brandon Vazquez is an enigma that Atlanta United fans have heard much about, but are yet to see it with their own eyes. His time on the field Saturday night was brief, and hardly enough to draw any concrete conclusions from, but he deserves a shout out. Hell, the kid did everything right during his time on the field, which was especially good to see after he seemed to struggle adjusting to MLS competition in preseason. Hopefully he continues to challenge for playing time, which will be very hard to come by once Martinez is back in action in a few weeks.