HERRIMAN — As Brooks Lennon, Albert Rusnak and Mike Petke strolled into media room last Saturday following a discouraging home tie with Minnesota, independently all three mentioned how Real Salt Lake can make up for the dropped points at home by simply stealing points on the road.
They said it with such a nonchalant tone, like a simple flip of the switch can produce road success.
In reality, that positive mentality hasn’t worked much this season but it’s something Real Salt Lake will try and draw upon this Saturday in arguably its toughest road game of the season at league-leading Atlanta United.
The second-year club owns the best record in MLS with 60 points and has scored a whopping 63 goals. Upwards of 70,000 fans will fill Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday (5 p.m., KMYU) to push their club one step closer to the Supporter’s Shield.
It might end up being the largest crowd Real Salt Lake has ever played in front of, but Petke has encouraged his players to enjoy the experience as the club chases its own playoff aspirations.
“We think we have a very good game plan. We think we have a very good opportunity to go in there and get points, but it comes down to the day and how we show up and how we arrive and how we deal with 70,000 people,” Petke.
More importantly, how is RSL going to deal with Atlanta striker Joseph Martinez?
The Venezuelan international has scored a league-record 30 goals this season, including two on Wednesday as Atlanta rallied from a 3-1 second-half deficit to win at San Jose 4-3. Martinez scored the winner on a lethal header in the 95th minute.
“He has a vicious mentality in front of goal, at this point he thinks he’s going to score every time he shoots,” said Kyle Beckerman, who practiced all week despite being subbed out early last weekend for precautionary reasons.
Beckerman said getting a result at Atlanta and bolstering RSL’s playoff résumé will require one of the best performances of the season. He shrugged off the notion that back-to-back road wins at Houston and Colorado will bolster the confidence.
“This team is in a different class than the last two teams that we beat on the road, so it’s going to take more from us, but the same type of commitment,” said Beckerman.
RSL heads into the weekend sitting in fifth place in the Western Conference with five games remaining in the regular season. Petke said his team is in a good spot and still controls its own playoff destiny, but that’s predicated upon getting something out of its last three road games.
Petke stressed the importance of playing smart against Atlanta’s constant pressure.
“It’s a fact we are going to be playing deep for large chunks of the game in Atlanta, that’s just how dominant and how good they are at home, so we are resigned to the fact that at times we’re going to be deep,” said Petke.
Rusnak said Real Salt Lake can’t sit too deeply though because absorbing that much pressure for 90 minutes will never work.
“I don’t think we can limit their chances with a certain approach to the game, we just have to worry about ourselves. We have to score at least a couple of goals if you want to win there, and keep the goal scoring streak going for us,” said Rusnak.
The only other meeting between these teams was in April 2017, with Atlanta prevailing at Rio Tinto Stadium 3-1.