The Atlanta United FC juggernaut went briefly went off course Wednesday at San Jose but United found its way in the nick of time and returns home Saturday with a two-game winning streak to play Real Salt Lake at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
With Atlanta trailing 3-1 in the second half, MLS scoring leader Josef Martinez scored twice, including the winner in the fifth minute of second-half stoppage time, and Miguel Almiron added a goal for the 4-3 defeat of the Earthquakes. That increased Atlanta's lead to four points over the idle New York Red Bulls for the Supporters' Shield as the team with the best regular-season record.
Still, Gerardo "Tata" Martino, the manager of Atlanta (18-5-6, 60 points), was not satisfied.
"Even though we're happy with turning the game around and coming back two goals down, we can't lose sight of the fact of all the errors that we made tonight and how we got into that situation in the first place," he said afterward.
"I think it shows that the team had a lot of spirit and that's what we can rescue from this game. We're able to fight back and get the comeback, but if we would have played like that against a team that is fighting on top of the table, I think we could have lost this game by a few goals. There are some things to work on."
In fact, San Jose is the worst team in MLS, but Atlanta defender Michael Parkhurst said the win and last Saturday's 3-0 victory at Colorado, which tied with Orlando City SC for the second-fewest points, put Atlanta in position to finish a physically demanding stretch in style.
"Six points from these two road games is massive and now we go home to try and finish it out nine for nine," he said.
Atlanta has won four of its last five games.
Real Salt Lake (13-10-6, 45 points) is playing well too. A 1-1 tie vs. Minnesota last Saturday ended a three-game winning streak.
With five matches to go, RSL is fifth in the Western Conference, a point ahead of Seattle Sounders FC, which holds the last playoff spot and is four points ahead of Vancouver.
Just as Atlanta can count on Martinez, who has an MLS single-season-record 30 goals, RSL has seen the emergence of Croatian midfielder Damir Kreilach in his first season in MLS.
He has scored in the past three matches to top Real Salt Lake with 11 goals. He and midfielder Albert Rusnak (10 goals) are the first RSL tandem to reach double-digit goals since Alvaro Saborio and Fabian Espindola in 2011.
"He's an experienced player who played at a good level in Europe. He knows how to settle in," Rusnak said of Kreilach. "It's great that he could adapt so quickly."
RSL midfielder Kyle Beckerman appreciates Kreilach's all-around game.
"He's such an honest player. He works his tail off in any position he plays in," Beckerman said. "He does the defensive work. He does the offensive work. It's a credit to him that he can do all of those things."