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Preview: Atlanta United present a new challenge for Toronto FC

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The Reds will see some fresh faces at BMO Field this weekend as they host one of the league’s newcomers.

MLS: Sporting KC at Toronto FC Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

After last Friday’s home opener, Toronto FC are still unbeaten in MLS play this year but have just one win to show for it. This week, they’ll be back out at BMO Field (hopefully in nicer weather) looking for their first home victory of 2017.

Atlanta United make their first trip to Canada on Saturday, and might get to debut their away kits against TFC. Fans at BMO Field will be intrigued to see the shiny new club in MLS as the Reds try to hand Atlanta their first road loss.

Being such a new team, it’s hard to get a good read on what kind of side Atlanta truly are. So far, they’ve been pretty impressive offensively, scoring 11 goals, including a 6-1 drubbing of Minnesota United and a spirited 4-0 win against the improved Chicago Fire. Even more interesting, though (in my opinion), is the draw with the Seattle Sounders last weekend at CenturyLink Field in which they managed to hold the MLS Cup champions (bleh) off the scoresheet in their own building.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, if you’re a TFC fan), five of those 11 goals came from Venezuelan striker Josef Martinez, who will miss about another month with a quad injury. Before getting hurt, Martinez was one of the most dangerous players in the league and just this week was named MLS’ Player of the Month for March.

Had Martinez been in the lineup, Atlanta may have actually won in Seattle last weekend. They had 11 shots in the game, but lacked an elite finisher like him to capitalize on their chances.

MLS: Chicago Fire at Atlanta United FC Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Even without their star striker, though, Atlanta remain a staunchly attack-minded team. Hector Villalba and Miguel Almiron, the club’s other two designated players, have three goals between them and can make a lot of noise in the attacking third. TFC will have to be extremely wary of the counter-attacking threat, as those two have a knack for quick layoffs and long, dangerous runs at back-pedalling defenders.

This could very well be the most entertaining game TFC have yet played in 2017. Both sides have the capacity to play a fast-paced, offensive style, so there’s bound to be no shortage of chances for either team.

Atlanta were tested defensively against Seattle, much more than they had been previously. They did pretty well, too (it’s impossible to draw any other conclusion from a clean sheet against the Sounders). Although the home team had the edge in shots (13-11), Atlanta won 19 tackles and made 23 clearances. Only one of Seattle’s shots actually found the target, and keeper Alec Kann dealt with it calmly.

That said, Toronto’s attacking trio of Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore, and Victor Vazquez will arguably be the most dangerous Atlanta has seen. If things go to plan, and all three are working together on the field for a full 90 minutes, we might finally see the Reds wake up offensively.

Giovinco and Altidore are well-known for their chemistry, having played off each other excellently last season. Both look to be fully fit to start on Saturday, which in itself is something to cheer about. Adding Vazquez to the mix, though, might just give TFC’s attack that little extra bit of creativity and poise that they need to finally start finding the net.

MLS: Toronto FC at Philadelphia Union Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

It looks like Justin Morrow will be back in the lineup as well for TFC, which is another plus. Raheem Edwards did admirably in his first MLS start, but Morrow’s absence seemed to highlight how important he is in the build-up. A player with energy like Edwards, too, could be a game-changer off the bench (much like he was against Vancouver).

TFC have, for the most part, played extremely well on the back end so far. Three clean sheets, including two on the road, is a big deal. Now, though, it’s time for the attack to step it up a little bit. Once they start to connect like they did last year, TFC can start turning these draws into wins.

This weekend’s game could be a good time to do that. Atlanta can leave themselves exposed at times when they attack too aggressively, and they will probably let TFC have their chances.

Let’s just hope they can finish them this time.

Projected starting XI:

Atlanta United: Kann; Mears, Parkhurst, Pirez, Garza; Carmona, Gressel; Villalba, Almiron, Asad; Jones.