Isn’t being an expansion team supposed to be difficult?
It hasn’t looked it for Atlanta United, who are sitting pretty in second place in the Eastern Conference heading into their visit to Toronto FC on Saturday night. Gerardo Martino’s team have accumulated seven points from their first four games, their 11 goals scored topped only by the Portland Timbers, and held the Seattle Sounders to a 0-0 draw away from home last time out.
Much like the Sporting Kansas City match on just over a week ago, then, this will be a tough fixture for Toronto, though they will benefit from having Jozy Altidore back in the lineup and Justin Morrow fit to start. Here are all the details and a few things to watch out for.
Time for Toronto to step up in attack
No one is really concerned about Toronto’s lack of goals so far this season, but at the same time it’s entirely fair to state that they need to be better than they have been by a significant margin to be back in contention for the MLS Cup. That’s fine - again, it’s very early - but ahead of a trip to Columbus a confidence-boosting win would be really nice here.
It’s not so much that TFC haven’t been getting in good positions and dictating games, but more that they have been sloppy and lacking a killer instinct (Altidore aside) in the final third. Excellent shooting opportunities have been wasted and odd-man rushes have broken down too often.
Atlanta’s defensive record has been better than expected so far, but they’re not going to be a shut-down defensive team and nor do they want to be. They will take risks with the ball, send their full-backs forward and attempt to give the Reds something to think about, but leave some space behind them for Toronto to exploit as a result.
Make the most of set pieces
Atlanta are not the biggest team - though if Kenwyne Jones starts, that will help - but are nevertheless not afraid to persistently foul in their own half in order to break up play. Against Seattle, they were called up 18 times - the second most of any MLS team on the weekend. Clint Dempsey nearly punished them in the second half but headed against the woodwork.
Toronto have three centre-backs and Altidore plus Tosaint Ricketts off the bench, and Sebastian Giovinco and Victor Vazquez are capable of picking them out from dead-ball situations. I would be surprised if Vanney does not have a couple of fresh free-kick and corner routines up his sleeve for this one.
Stuff to read
Toronto: Bono; Zavaleta, Moor, Mavinga; Beitashour, Cooper, Bradley, Vazquez, Morrow; Altidore, Giovinco.
Subs: Pais, Edwards, Hagglund, Osorio, Chapman, Delgado, Ricketts.
Atlanta: Kann; Mears, Parkhurst, Pirez, Garza; Carmona, Larentowicz; Asad, Gressel, Almiron; Villalba.
Subs: Reynish, Bloom, Walkes, Heath, McCann, Jones, Carleton.
How to watch
Venue: BMO Field
Kick-off: 7.30pm ET
SB Nation opposition blog: Dirty South Soccer
TV: TSN 4 & 5
Radio: TSN 1050
Stream: TSN GO