MLS Race: Atlanta loses 'heartbeat,' youth is served at RSL

Atlanta United won again before another huge crowd at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but the victory could have been costly as Miguel Almiron, arguably the most exciting young player in MLS, exited early with a hamstring injury. No team is playing with more young players than Real Salt Lake, which has surged into playoff contention.

Atlanta loses its 'heartbeat.' Almiron left Atlanta United's match against in the 17th minute with a left hamstring injury. Without its attacking midfielder, Atlanta went on to beat Montreal, 2-0, to move into third place in the Eastern Conference.

UPDATE: Almiron will be sidelined at least three weeks.

The game was the fifth for Atlanta United in the last 14 days as it made up a game against the LA Galaxy pushed back because of the delayed opening of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Almiron has played every game this season and ranks fourth in the league among first-year midfielders in minutes played, but Atlanta United coach Tata Martino wouldn't speculate whether Almiron's injury was caused by overuse.

“Well, we just have to move forward," he said. "The team comes together. There are plenty of guys that are itching to play. Miguel is obviously the heartbeat of our team when he’s out there. He makes so much happen for us. To lose him would be difficult if we do. I’m not sure about the injury, but we’ll come together as a group just like we did today.”

Most minutes, first-year midfielders:
2,697 Haris Medunjanin, Philadelphia
2,520 Ilie, Sporting KC
2,519 Sebastian Blanco, Portland
2,365 Miguel Almiron, Atlanta United
2,364 Yamil Asad, Atlanta United
2,329 Hector Villalba, Atlanta Unite

Youth movement pays off at RSL. Pretty much written off at the beginning of June after back-to-back losses by 5-1 and 6-2, Real Salt Lake has stormed back to put itself in playoff contention with a 7-2-3 record since July 4.

RSL sits in fifth place in the Western Conference after its 2-0 win over Seattle. It got a big game from 38-year-old Nick Rimando in goal, but also has been winning with players almost half his age.

Against the Sounders, Coach Mike Petke started four players who are 20 years old or younger -- Venezuelan Jefferson Savarino, who scored the first goal, and U.S. U-20 World Cup players Justen Glad, Danilo Acosta and Brooks Lennon -- and a fifth, Sebastian Saucedo, came off the bench.

MLS under-21 starters (Sept. 23-24):
18 Tyler Adams, New York Red Bulls
19 Danilo Acosta, Real Salt Lake
20 Brooks Lennon, Real Salt Lake
20 Nouhou Tolo, Seattle
20 Jackson Yueill, San Jose
20 Justen Glad, Real Salt Lake
20 Anton Walkes, Atlanta United
20 Tommy Redding, Orlando City
20 Jack Harrison, NYCFC
20 Jefferson Savarino, Real Salt Lake
20 Bradford Jamieson IV, LA Galaxy

Toronto FC's celebrations stalled.  Toronto FC had a chance to clinch the 2017 Supporters' Shield before any other MLS team clinched a playoff berth but lost for the second time in four games, dropping a 2-1 decision in New England.

Star forwards Sebastian Giovinco (quad) and Jozy Altidore (hamstring) were withheld for the third game in a row. Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney said he wasn't displeased with his team's performance, given the makeshift lineup he put out that included Steven Beitashour and Justin Morrow at center back with Drew Moor.

“My hope is by next weekend we’ll have a vast majority of guys back in," Vanney said, "and we’ll have these final few games to play together again and get it going."

Eastern Conference:
62 (31) *Toronto FC  18-5-8 67/33
52 (30) *NYCFC  15-8-7 51/38
49 (29) Atlanta United 14-8-7  63/35
48 (30) Chicago 14-10-6   53/40
47 (31) Columbus 14-12-5 48/47
42 (29) NY Red Bulls  12-11-6  43/39
39 (30) Montreal 11-13-6  49/51
38 (30) New England 11-14-5 47/52
36 (30) Philadelphia 9-12-9 40/40
35 (30) Orlando City  9-13-8 32/50
31 (30) D.C. United 9-17-4 27/49
*Clinched playoff berth.

Reyna carries the 'Caps. The Vancouver Whitecaps completed an unbeaten four-game homestand with a 2-1 win over Colorado. At the moment, only second-place Sporting KC looks to have a shot at catching the 'Caps in the Western Conference though they are on the road for their next three games -- beginning at Seattle on Wednesday.

Peruvian Yordy Reyna, who was injured and missed the first three and a half months of the MLS season, has been the difference for Vancouver, which has not lost in nine games since he was inserted into the starting lineup. His winning goal against the Rapids was his fifth of the season, all of them game-winners.

Western Conference:
48 (29) Vancouver 14-9-6 47/40
47 (29) Sporting KC 12-6-11 37/23
47 (31) Portland 13-10-8 53/47
44 (30) Seattle 11-8-11 42/37
41 (31) Real Salt Lake 12-14-5 46/52
39 (30) San Jose 11-13-6 32/52
39 (29) Houston 10-10-9 47/40
38 (29) FC Dallas 9-9-11 40/42
32 (29) Minn. United 9-15-5 40/59
27 (30) LA Galaxy 7-17-6 37/58
26 (29) Colorado 7-17-5 27/44

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