The league and TV rights holders would probably be thrilled to see these two teams meet again in November in the conference finals. Toronto have won the Supporters’ Shield and can set a new MLS record for regular-season points with a draw, while Atlanta are pulling in the biggest crowds in North American soccer in their inaugural season. Over 70,000 fans are expected today.
Their stadium, which is being shared with the Atlanta Falcons, has treated them well so far: a 3-2 loss to Minnesota United with a few key players missing snapped an unbeaten streak of five wins and a draw since the grand opening in September.
Kick-off: 4 p.m. ET
Venue: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta
What do the many knockout-round possibilities mean for Toronto?
All we know for sure is that the Red Bulls will finish sixth, which means that if they win their knockout tie - a road game - they will face TFC in the semi-finals.
Otherwise there’s a lot to play for, because the Columbus Crew also visit New York City FC in another battle of Eastern Conference contenders.
In fact, there is a third big reason for Toronto to want to get something from this game beyond the points record and the momentum it will give them going into the playoffs. If Atlanta fail to win and the Crew triumph at NYCFC - who will be playing on the unfamiliar Citi Field turf due to another clash with the Yankees - the Five Stripes are going on the road next week.
That could halt the league’s most-talked about team in its tracks given they have not won on their travels since July 21 (though they also only have one loss in that span).
But that is just one of many possible scenarios. Atlanta finish second if they win and NYCFC and Chicago don’t. Columbus jump all the way from fifth to a bye if they claim a fourth victory in a row and Atlanta and Chicago are held to a draw or lose.
The first tie-breaker is wins, then goal differential, then goals scored.
I’ll be watching whatever centre-back Atlanta choose to field in place of the suspended Leandro Gonzalez Pirez against Jozy Altidore.
Atlanta have conceded seven goals from crosses this season, while Toronto have scored 12 and conceded just one. Tata Martino’s team is one of few in MLS that can keep up with the Reds in open play; TFC will need to make their supremacy in the aerial game count to beat them at their own stadium.
Altidore is a man in form, with seven goals in his past eight games for club and country, and this could be fertile... turf for him.
The opposition view
Atlanta United have had an outstanding start to life at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and could grab the #2 seed in the East. No one would like to face them in the playoffs. What stops this team from going all the way?
If they continue to play at home, anything is possible. Their form since moving to Mercedes-Benz Stadium has been phenomenal. It’s their away form that is a little concerning, with less than impressive showings at NYRB, New England, Philadelphia, and Kansas City in recent months.
The big thing for Atlanta is they have to be close to fully fit. That’s easier said than done considering they’re coming off a stretch of eight matches in 23 days that saw Miguel Almiron, Greg Garza, Chris McCann, and Brandon Vazquez all go down with significant injuries. It’s looking like Almiron and McCann could be back against Toronto, which is great news as Almiron is obviously one of our most important players and McCann is our second-choice left-back who is already filling in for the injured Garza.
Garza and Vazquez can’t be expected back any earlier than the conference semi-finals if Atlanta were to get to that stage, and even that is optimistic. Garza has arguably been the best left-back in MLS when healthy, so getting him back to full fitness as soon as possible should be a priority.
TV channel & live stream
TV: TSN 4 (Canada), Fox Sports South, Carolinas & Tennessee (USA)
Stream: TSN Go (Canada), Fox Sports Go (USA), MLS Live (out of market)
Radio: TSN 1050 (Toronto), WAOK 1380 AM (Atlanta)
Toronto have no known absences.
Miguel Almiron and Chris McCann have both returned to training after injuries and are expected to feature for Atlanta, but the hosts remain without Alec Kann, Greg Garza and Brandon Vazquez.
Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, meanwhile, is suspended for yellow-card accumulation.
Atlanta: Guzan; Parkhurst, Larentowicz, Walkes; Gressel, Kratz, Carmona, McCann; Villalba, Martinez, Asad.
Subs: Reynish, Boswell, Ambrose, Mears, Peterson, Almiron, Jones.
Toronto: Bono; Beitashour, Moor, Mavinga, Morrow; Delgado, Bradley, Osorio; Vazquez; Altidore, Giovinco.
Subs: Irwin, Zavaleta, Hasler, Edwards, Cheyrou, Cooper, Ricketts.