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Atlanta United at Real Salt Lake: Three Questions With RSL Soapbox

Another trip out West.

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

The long, congested month is just about over for Atlanta United. And before you know it, the Five Stripes will be playing back home: May 29 against Minnesota United and June 1 against the Chicago Fire before the FIFA break. Prior to that, though, it’s a Friday night matchup with Real Salt Lake in Utah.

I had a chance to chat with Lucas Muller from RSL Soapbox about how he feels about his club as things stand today and if it may be starting to round into form just a bit after back-to-back 3-goal outputs.

RSL is holding on to that 7th and final playoff spot, but still have one or two fewer games played than its opponents. What do you say a team like them does well, and what do they not do so well that concerns you?

Real Salt Lake are right where they should be in the standings given their points per game, even with a few games in hand over some western conference teams. They’ve started to figure out their attack and are looking more dangerous. RSL is a team that is still working out some kinks, though. Everton Luiz, who could likely return to the starting XI this week, had a huge impact on the team earlier in the season, but has been out with injury. The backline recently saw Brooks Lennon dropped, which allowed Herrera to play in his natural right back position and Donny Toia playing in the left back role. This has greatly improved RSL’s defending, so that’s been a welcome change.

The biggest concern around RSL is their inconsistency. They’ve had good performances, but that hasn’t lasted for more than two games. That may bode well for Atlanta, as the team is coming off of wins against Colorado and Toronto. This inconsistency isn’t specific to just one part of the field, it seems to be a team-wide issue. As the team finds more wins, more goals, and more clean sheets that could and should change.

The team’s won back-to-back matches by a total of 6-2 but were a little inconsistent prior to that. Do you feel that they’re slowly starting to find their form a little after a slow start?

It’s too early to say that they’ve found good form. Six goals in two games is fantastic, but they had five goals from two games in the middle of April and lost their next two games. What is good is that Sam Johnson has been scoring on the regular, Bofo Saucedo is not only hungry but also contributing, and the backline is finding success. The return of goal keeper Nick Rimando is also huge. Punta did well while Rimando was recovering from injury, but Nick is a legend for a reason. Conceding two goals against a profoundly bad Rapids team is concerning, so the clean sheet they kept against Toronto should build team confidence.

Overall, things are trending in the right direction, but Friday’s match will be a good test to see if they can hold up to the champs.

I read that Joao Plata has been linked to a move away from RSL to Atletico San Luis of Liga MX. What has a player like him meant to this organization throughout his 6+ seasons in Utah?

MLS: Western Conference Semifinal-Real Salt Lake at Sporting KC William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

Plata has been an a great asset for RSL over the past six seasons. He’s the third highest goal-scorer in team history, but the time seems right for him to move on. Players like Bofo Saucedo, Corey Baird, Jefferson Savarino, Brooks Lennon, and even Albert Rusnak are all good on the wing and there’s simply not enough space on the roster for that many wingers. Plata has been inconsistent over the years, even if he’s been good on the whole. There are games where he feels invisible on the field, then games where he seems unstoppable. Plata is at his best when he’s a second striker playing off of another forward in a two striker system. RSL hasn’t done that in years, and his play has suffered a bit because of it. If he does move to Liga MX, it could be what he needs to advance his career and what RSL needs in order to free up some cap space on the roster. He will be missed in Salt Lake City, even if it’s the right time for the change.