Atlanta United’s 3-0 humiliation at the hands of Austin sure seems like rock bottom, but the Five Stripes haven’t shown any ability to bounce back from disaster in a long time. Gonzalo Pineda’s side will get its chance to do so almost immediately this time, with Real Salt Lake coming to the Benz for a rare midweek fixture.
The Utah side was one of the main stories of the 2021 season. Interim manager Pablo Mastroeni led RSL on an incredible run of form into the playoffs and all the way to the Western Conference final, memorably taking out the Seattle Sounders on penalties after registering zero shots in 120 minutes of action. Mastroeni was handed the permanent job and so far he’s surpassing expectations as strongly as ever. Despite ownership turmoil and little investment into the team over the offseason, RSL sits in 3rd in the West on 30 points (8W-6D-5L) but how exactly it got there is a bit of a mystery. Salt Lake’s attack is the 10th best in the West with 24 goals, equal to the amount it's conceded (the 6th best tally). It’s overshooting its expected points by a startling amount as well (according to fbref RSL has the 9th-best expected goal differential in the West).
Instead, grit and grind have been the name of the game so far. Fifteen of RSL’s 19 games have been decided by one goal or less, it has the second most clean sheets in the league (7), and five players are tied for the team lead of goals scored with 3 strikes, including our old friend Justin Meram. There are some signs of weakness showing, however. RSL has just one win in its last five and conceded five goals in its last two outings. Atlanta’s defense is better left unspoken about, but the Five Stripes at least have some hope of being able to outscore the visitors.
Predicted Starting XIs
McBlunder’s Prediction: Atlanta United 1-1 Real Salt Lake
After an impressively bad prediction against Austin (at least I got the fact that one team would score three goals right...), it’s time to face the inevitable and adopt my new nickname provided by amoine in the comments. With that in mind, I’ll go with a tamer 1-1 draw this time. The midweek nature of this one could see some rotation in the starting lineups but the real question marks are hovering over how Atlanta will come out after what was said Saturday night. Maybe the Austin loss is what finally wakes this team up, but I for one won’t be holding my breath.