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Preview: Toronto FC head to Atlanta in search of a crucial win

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The Reds start an important stretch of games starting with Wednesday night’s tilt

Toronto FC players in action during the MLS game between...
Toronto FC head to Atlanta looking to bounce back from Saturday’s defeat.
Photo by Angel Marchini/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

TORONTO, Ont. - Toronto FC are looking to shake off Saturday night’s loss with a trip to Atlanta. Saturday’s loss keeps the Reds in the bottom of the Eastern, but the next stretch of games will either give the Reds a shot at this year’s playoffs, or the Club can officially label this a lost season.

Kick-off is scheduled for 7 PM EST and as usual, can be watched on TSN.

Last weekend’s loss to the New England Revolution was not a bad performance by any means, but at the end of the day it was another game where the Reds were forced to walk away with zero points and gave them a joint-league high of 10 losses on the year, along with expansion side Austin FC.

TFC Head Coach Javier Perez likes to focus on the positives in his team’s performances. The positive he can take into the next stretch of games is the Reds’ performance in their last two matches against the top two teams in the Eastern Conference. Toronto picked up a come from behind point against New York City, and very well could have, perhaps should have, picked up all three points against New England. The schedule now becomes considerably easier, at least on paper.

The Reds next three opponents, include Atlanta on Wednesday, Miami on Saturday, and CF Montreal next weekend, before the international break. Only Montreal currently occupies a playoff spot of the three teams, holding onto the eighth seed. While the Reds are a ways away from playoff contention, putting in performances like in their last two matches, they could see themselves slowly enter the playoff picture, and the next three matches will be important in that pursuit.

Head Coach Javier Perez will have relatively the same players available to him as on the weekend, with one exception. Ayo Akinola who remains out through an ACL injury, along with Tsubasa Endoh (lower body) continue to remain out, while Jozy Altidore and Ralph Priso, both out through lower body injuries are unavailable for the trip to Atlanta. Forwards Dom Dwyer and Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty are questionable for Wednesday as well.

Turning to the opposition, Atlanta United are currently on a three game unbeaten run, which includes wins in back-to-back matches against the Columbus Crew (3-2 win) and Los Angeles FC (1-0 win). Atlanta’s win against LAFC marked the first time the Club has won back-to-back matches since the first two weeks of the 2020 season, and their first win at hope since the middle of May when Atlanta beat Montreal 1-0.

The Reds and Atlanta have some similarities heading into their matchup this weekend. Both clubs have appointed new managers before the midway point of the season. For United, Sunday’s win marked the first under new head coach Gonzalo Pineda. Pineda took over the Atlanta job on August 12 and quickly got his team off to a winning start, with the hope of getting the Five Stripes, who currently sit in ninth in the East, back into a playoff spot.

The Toronto FC defence, which has now allowed 40 goals this season, will have to be dialled in. The Reds defence has been guilty of making mistakes that have cost the Reds multiple points this season, most recently on the weekend when conceding a late penalty to the Revolution. While Atlanta haven’t been a great goal threat so far this year - Atlanta has scored 22 goals compared to TFC’s 24 this season - there are signs that the Five Stripes offence is ready to burst.

Atlanta’s talisman, Josef Martinez, who has worked his way from an ACL injury back to full fitness has now scored in three consecutive matches, including his first goal at home in more than a year. Along with Martinez, Atlanta midfielders Marcelino Moreno and Ezequiel Barco have been able to lead the Atlanta offence. Moreno currently leads Atlanta with six goals on the year, while Barco has potted in three goals of his own along with three assists.

Wednesday night’s matchup may also see a debut for Atlanta’s newly signed Designated Player Lúiz Araujo. Araujo joined the Five Stripes last week from French club Lille, and while he didn’t debut for the club last week, the Atlanta head coach may have an extra attacking player at his disposal for Wednesday night’s matchup. Araujo availability for Wednesday’s matchup is currently questionable, and will be contingent on obtaining the necessary visa.

Along with Araujo, Jake Mulraney and Franco Ibarra are also listed as questionable while Emerson Hyndman (ACL) and Mo Adams are unavailable for Wednesday’s matchup.

While this has been a difficult season for the Reds and virtually nothing has gone according to plan, the Reds will be confident in the fact that they have controlled this matchup historically. Atlanta has managed just one win in eight matches against the Reds including in the playoffs. Toronto has won the last three matches against the Five Stripes, including a 1-0 win in their latest matchup in 2020. On that day, former Red Pablo Piatti scored the only goal of the match in the 89th minute to secure a win for the Reds.

Wednesday’s matchup marks the beginning of the most crucial period for Toronto as it will determine whether the season can be salvaged or if this will be considered a lost season. Recent performances have shown that the skill and quality are still there in the squad, but picking up three points is all that matters at this point.

Match Details:

Opponent: Atlanta United
Kick-off: 7 PM EST
Stadium: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA
Watch: TSN