TORONTO, Canada—Toronto FC travelled to Atlanta in their final road match of the season with the goal of playing spoiler once again.
When the teams were announced, it was clear that Head Coach Javier Perez was prioritizing Wednesday night’s matchup in the Canadian Championship against Pacific FC, and rightly so.
With that choice came a number of changes in the Reds starting lineup and meant leaving a number of regular starters back in Toronto, making seven changes to the previous side.
#TFCLive coach Javier Perez makes 7 changes from the Philly game.— John Molinaro (@JohnMolinaro) October 30, 2021
IN: Gonzalez, Dunn, Morrow, Marshall-Rutty, Nelson, DeLeon, Mullins
OUT: Auro, Bradley, Mavinga, Lawrence, Osorio, Delgado, Shaffelburghttps://t.co/fw97iuQf8B
Atlanta, who continue to work towards locking down their spot in the MLS Cup Playoffs, carved out their first chance inside two minutes through Josef Martinez. That was just a glimpse into what the rest of the first half would look like.
While the Reds struggled to create clear cut chances, Martinez and the rest of the Atlanta offence were ready to put pressure on the Reds defence and pounce on any mistakes from the Reds.
That strategy paid dividends for Atlanta in the 15th minute, when the Reds ‘keeper Quentin Westberg was caught with the ball in his feet and gifted Luiz Araújo with the opening goal of the match.
The rest of the first half followed a very similar pattern and truthfully, the Reds could, and really should have, been down by more than just one goal.
The second half started with Perez opting for three changes, replacing Jozy Altidore, Alejandro Pozuelo, and Omar Gonzalez, with one eye on the midweek CanChamp fixture.
As such, Atlanta continued to assert their dominance on this match and caused the Reds defence all sorts of trouble, creating chance after chance. It looked as though The Five Stripes may have found their second goal through Ezequiel Barco, but the striker was ruled offside.
The Reds finally found an opening on the hour mark, as Mark Delgado intercepted a pass in the Atlanta half and played striker Jordan Perruzza into a dangerous position, but the striker made a complete mess of his chance.
With a quarter of the match to be played, Perez went back to his bench and brought on Jacob Shaffelburg and veteran striker Dom Dwyer, who made his return to the team, after missing the last month with an undisclosed lower body injury.
The risk you run with rotating a team as heavily as the Reds opted to do in Atlanta is that you get a very disjointed performance, as was evident on Saturday night. It was a challenge for the depleted Reds team to create many dangerous chances against an experienced Atlanta side.
But of course, this is the Reds we’re talking about and they’ve taken up their role of playing spoiler quite admirably in recent matches.
With time ticking away, and Atlanta still unable to find the second goal that would have given them all three points, it was the two substitutes, Dwyer and Perruzza, who combined to steal a point in Atlanta.
Perruzza, who earlier missed his chance to get his first-ever MLS goal, made no mistake this time.
Perruzza’s goal helped the Reds claim their third consecutive draw, all against teams in the playoffs or in playoff contention.
One more player we have to tip our hat to is Julian Dunn. The 21-year-old Canadian defender last played in an MLS game some three years ago and went the full 90 minutes on Saturday night, locking down the right side of TFC’s back line in what was a convincing performance, as Javier Perez said after the match that Dunn has earned his trust moving forward.
Javier Perez on Julian Dunn: "I think he was excellent ... Tonight, he proved that he belongs (at) this level."— Michael Singh (@MichaelSingh94) October 31, 2021
Saturday wasn’t a pretty performance by any means, but the Reds can take solace in the resilience they’ve shown in recent matches as the 2021 season comes to an end. The club has one more MLS match to play: a Decision Day encounter with D.C. United at BMO Field.
Atlanta United: Arujo (15’)
Toronto FC: Perruzza (89’)
The Reds will get ready for a matchup back at BMO Field in the Canadian Championship semifinal on Wednesday night against Pacific FC.