SANDY, Utah -- Atlanta United FC have led 1-0 at the half three times this season and twice they lost 2-1, including last week against Montreal. On Saturday against Real Salt Lake, Atlanta showed it has learned how to play the second half and even did it on the road at altitude in a 3-1 victory.
Atlanta used their defensive pressure to slow RSL’s buildup, and unlike in those previous loses were able to withstand when RSL came at them with a high press of their own. A week after giving up two second-half goals to Montreal, Atlanta wasn’t about to make the same mistake again with a 1-0 lead and came out aggressive.
“We entered the second half playing well, because we weren’t comfortable with what we had done in the first half,” Atlanta head coach Tata Martino said. “I told the players we wanted to start the second half aggressive.”
The aggressive play led to a 46th minute goal by Yamil Asad which capitalized on RSL being slow to clear the ball.
The goal helped push Atlanta through the next 45 minutes until Brandon Vazquez put the game away for good.
“It was a big goal,” Atlanta captain Michael Parkhurst said. “It really kills their momentum. They had a lot of momentum going into halftime. That really helped us out. Gave us a little breathing room and confidence to play again.”
After the first-half goal, Salt Lake had gotten back into the game partly from Atlanta ceding them the middle of the field.
“We let them grow into the game with some mistakes in our defensive third,” Parkhurst said. “We weren’t winning the first balls or the second balls either in the first half.
“We gained possession in the middle of the field better in the second half. It’s tough to play on the road and I thought we did a pretty good job of not giving them good goal-scoring opportunities.”
Atlanta hadn’t forgotten the Montreal result and even after Salt Lake pulled to within a goal at 2-1 in the 69th minute, Atlanta kept at it and remained focused on the three points. Parkhurst said that with RSL loading players up top, ATLUTD focused on staying safe, avoiding silly mistakes and the big chances that often result.
The win gives Atlanta five points on its four-game road trip. The team returns home to face DC United with a better understanding of how to hold onto a 1-0 halftime lead.
“We’ll take it. We left points on the table [this trip], but all in all we’re happy that’s where we are right now,” Parkhurst said.