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2019 MLS Cup Playoffs Preview: Toronto FC @ Atlanta United

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Last year’s Champions host the 2017 winning Reds with a place in the 2019 MLS Cup Finals on the line

MLS: Toronto FC at Atlanta United FC
Atlanta United defender Franco Escobar (2) and Toronto FC defender Justin Morrow (2) fight for possession of the ball in the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
(Getz/USA TODAY Sports)

Last Wednesday in Queens, an Alejandro Pozuelo panenka at the death earned Toronto FC a 2-1 victory over New York City FC and a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The following night, Atlanta United imposed their will on Philadelphia Union from the get go as they cruised into the next round with a 2-0 result at home.

With only TFC and ATL remaining in the East, the stage is set for Wednesday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium where the 2018 MLS Cup Champs will host the 2017 winners with a spot in this year’s MLS Cup Final up for grabs.

In the early stages of 2019, Atlanta United looked to be taking a page out of Toronto’s book from 2018 as the MLS Cup hangover was in full swing. With midfielder Miguel Almiron heading across the pond to join Newcastle United, Atlanta struggled out of the gate, winning just one of their first six matches.

Following their slow start, Atlanta turned their season around in a big way finishing with a 18-12-4 record at the end of the regular season, which was good enough for second place in the Eastern conference. Much of their success can be attributed to 2019 MLS MVP finalist Josef Martinez, who scored nearly half of his sides goals throughout the year (28 out of 58.)

Both Eastern Conference sides come into Wednesday’s match-up in fine form. Toronto FC come into the contest unbeaten in a franchise-record twelve straight MLS contests dating back to the regular season. Meanwhile, Atlanta United are yet to concede a goal in their two playoff matches and are 12-3-1 in their last sixteen matches across all competitions.

During the regular season, the two clubs faced off twice with the home side emerging victorious on both occasions. Back in May, a largely second-string TFC side fell 2-0 to Atlanta on the road with many regulars, including Jonathan Osorio and Marky Delgado, sitting out the match.

In Toronto the following month, the Reds defeated the “Five Stripes” 3-2 at BMO Field. Many key players on both sides were absent once again thanks to various International competitions being played simultaneously. For Atlanta, their talisman Josef Martinez was unavailable due to Copa America commitments with Venezuela.

Drawing conclusions from the club’s previous fixtures this season is difficult as the best XI’s on both sides have yet to face off in 2019.

The four remaining sides around the league consists of the three previous MLS Cup Champions as well as the Supporters Shield winners from 2019. While the club is confident heading into Atlanta on Wednesday, TFC veteran defender Justin Morrow recognizes the challenge his side faces in the Eastern final as well as in a potential MLS Cup Finals match.

“It’s going to be tough, for sure it’s going to be tough,” said Morrow ahead of tomorrow’s match. “But, to win in this league you are going to have to beat good opponents now. Everybody’s getting better and better every year, and to have these four (teams) left, I think it shows the quality of MLS.”

For TFC, the availability of Omar Gonzalez and Jozy Altidore is once again in question. Of the two, Gonzalez appears to be available to play on Wednesday after finding a spot on the bench against NYCFC.

According to Toronto FC’s Gareth Wheeler, Gonzalez is “available for tomorrow”.

Meanwhile, the Altidore scenario doesn’t look promising.

Also, TFC GM Ali Curtis joined Sportsnet’s “Writers Bloc” radio show on Friday. Having been questioned on the health status of Altidore, Curtis’ comments suggested the club is more hopeful the striker will be available for a potential MLS Cup Final match rather than this week.

Atlanta United were dealt a huge blow ahead of Wednesday as coach Frank de Boer confirmed defender Miles Robinson has been ruled out of the clash with Toronto. Robinson was named alongside teammate Josef Martinez and TFC’s Alejandro Pozuelo in MLS’ best XI while also being named as a finalist for the 2019 MLS Defender of the year.

Historically, Atlanta has won just once in six matches against TFC since entering Major League Soccer in 2017. Considering the depletion of the Reds group that took the field on that particular night, it’s safe to say Toronto won’t be dwelling on that result back in May.

While the Reds are being viewed as underdogs heading into the match, the odds didn’t prevent them from getting a result last week at Citi Field. With the prospect of a third trip to the MLS Cup final in four years setting the stage, expect a confident TFC side to take to the turf at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Wednesday.

Additional Notes:

  • Atlanta United’s Josef Martinez has four goals and two assists in just four appearances against Toronto FC in his MLS career.
  • On October 22nd 2017, Toronto and Atlanta played to a 2-2 draw at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on MLS Decision Day. The match is best remembered for two Sebastian Giovinco moments, including one of his finest free-kicks in a TFC shirt as well as an infamous beer drinking scene.