Real Salt Lake Ambushed By Atlanta’s Attacking Prowess

HARRISON, NJ - MARCH 13: A general view of the MLS, Fussball Herren, USA march ball on the field during the first half of the Major League Soccer game between the New York Red Bulls and Minnesota United on March 13, 2022 at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey. Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire SOCCER: MAR 13 MLS - Minnesota United at New York Red Bulls Icon220332609

Atlanta United sunk Real Salt Lake 2-0 in what was a dominant attacking display from the MLS’s record-breaking team. The five-stripes dominated from start to finish as they blew away an out-of-sorts Salt Lake in what was a breathtaking display. Not without their faults, Atlanta United could’ve and should’ve won by more, as this piece goes deeper in exploring how Atlanta went about their match against Salt Lake.

Atlanta United’s Attack vs Salt Lake’s Defence

Among the best in the league, Atlanta’s front three of Miguel Almiron, Josef Martinez and Hector Villalba ran circles around a Salt Lake defence that really struggled to contain the MLS’s highest scoring team. Constant movement meant that Almiron, Martinez and Villalba were in open spaces all game long in comparison to the number of defenders Salt Lake had back defending. Salt Lake failed to close down both the man on the ball and any of the spaces, which only made Atlanta’s evening even easier. However, Atlanta’s attacking intent must not be downplayed, as they completely swamped Salt Lake’s final third during regular attacks.

Atlanta Real Salt Lake MLS Tactical Analysis
Atlanta United attacking movement vs RSL defensive shape and awareness.

The image above perfectly demonstrates my point about how despite having numbers back in defence, Salt Lake still failed to stop Atlanta from attacking. This image also shows the numbers Atlanta had in attack which made defending for Salt Lake that much more difficult. In this particular image, just two minutes into the game, Salt Lake have sufficient numbers to deal with Atlanta’s attacking three, however, they afford them too much space, as well as forget about the overlapping wing-backs of the game in George Bello and Franco Escobar.

The main focus of the image is the space in the middle of the pitch that both Martinez and Villalba occupy. Despite having two central midfielders and two centre-backs in close attention, Salt Lake fail to stop the ball from being played into Villalba, who is making a dangerous forward run.

Numbers forward and movement were a constant theme for Atlanta throughout the game, and if not for poor finishing, the score could’ve and should’ve been higher. Atlanta spurned a number of chances that would’ve made the scoreline look much more realistic.

Real Salt Lake’s Attacking vs Atlanta’s Defending

Salt Lake suffered in the first-half, as they came up against a stern Atlanta defence, who afforded them zero time and space, that they themselves had afforded Atlanta all game. However even though this was the case, Salt Lake’s main reason for a lack of attacking threat came as a result of a lack of numbers joining the attack.

Atlanta Real Salt Lake MLS Tactical Analysis
RSL attacker turns back due to lack of attacking numbers and good Atlanta defending.

This image provides a clear explanation of my point stated above. Salt Lake attacker Jefferson Savarino is forced back after receiving a pass forward, due to both close attention and a good Atlanta defensive shape. The three Salt Lake attackers are highlighted all within close attention and are stopped from getting the ball off Savarino due to the close attention from Bello.

However, Salt Lake’s attacking numbers did increase in the second-half in hope that the visitors could leave Atlanta with some points, but, Salt Lake were met with an even more rigid Atlanta defensive shape and line, with greater numbers.

Atlanta Real Salt Lake MLS Tactical Analysis
RSL’s growing attacking threat in the second-half is met with greater Atlanta defensive numbers.

Salt Lake showed greater attacking threat in the second half, but as mentioned above, they were met with an even bigger Atlanta defensive unit. This is illustrated in the image above, which shows Salt Lake’s greater attacking intent, which Atlanta countered with greater defensive numbers. Atlanta’s great five-man defensive shape is very noticeable in the image above, along with the marking of key Salt Lake attackers. This is something that Salt Lake lacked from time-to-time through the game, especially the marking/close attention of Atlanta’s attackers.

Final Thoughts

Atlanta’s victory was a very easy win tactically, as they were afforded time and space both off and on the ball, which meant getting at Salt Lake’s defence was easy. Despite Salt Lake’s second-half improvement, a loss was always on the card due to the threat of a counter.

Salt Lake could’ve got something out of this game if they had afforded much more attention to the men off the ball making the runs into the open spaces, rather than trying to keep a good shape, like Atlanta.