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Atlanta United vs. Toronto FC, recap: One Goal Shy

So close, but yet so far.

MLS: Toronto FC at Atlanta United FC Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta United was a Sebastian Giovinco free kick away from a first-round-bye.

An 84th-minute wonder-strike cemented a 2-2 tie with Toronto F.C. Sunday afternoon in front of an MLS-record-breaking Mercedes-Benz Stadium crowd as Atlanta United finished the regular season with a fourth-place finish in the Eastern Conference.

Toronto controlled the game early, creating multiple chances including a huge chance for Jozy Altidore in the 21st minute. Altidore slipped through a Leandro Gonzales-Pirez-less Atlanta back line and found himself one-on-one with Brad Guzan. Guzan somehow reacted in time to push the ball away. Seriously, I have no idea how he reacted that quickly.

Moments later, it got weird.

After a couple of minutes of open play, the game halted for a video review. After a brief moment of confusion, the head referee returned to award Atlanta a penalty.

A Drew Moor handball inside the 18 nearly two minutes earlier only became apparent after video review and VAR, which I love dearly, gifted Atlanta a huge opportunity.

Yamil Asad stepped up, sent Alexander Bono the wrong way and slotted the ball into the bottom left corner to give the Five Stripes the lead.

Toronto wouldn’t answer until the 60th minute.

Toronto dispossessed Kevin Kratz in midfield and played a long ball towards Altidore, who somehow (I saw it in person and I’ve seen multiple replays I really don’t understand how) stuck a toe around a sweeping Michael Parkhurst and flipped it up and over an oncoming Guzan. Out of seemingly nothing, Toronto made it 1-1.

“It was a good ball in behind,” Parkhurst said. “Chest height and it’s tough for me to figure out waht to do with it. I have to clear the danger before that even occurs next time.”

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the league the scoreboard continued working in Atlanta’s favor. Chicago trailed Houston 3-0 and NYCFC and Columbus were deadlocked at two.

A game winning goal would send Atlanta United to a first-round bye. Enter JOSEF MARTINEZ THE ABSOLUTE GOD.

An Atlanta attack revitalized by a freshly substituted Miguel Almiron put the Five Stripes on track to pick up a few extra days of vacation.

Then a foul set up Giovinco in prime position to do Giovinco things and well...

An inch-perfect free kick tied the game at two with only six minutes left of the 90.

“That’s probably the only place that would have gone in,” Guzan said. “But that’s why he’s a world class player. He’s got that ability.”

Atlanta came close to bashing in a late game-winning goal, but Alexander Bono and company were able to make a pair of huge stops to keep the score at two.

The day ended the same way it began, with Atlanta in fourth-place set to take on Columbus Crew in a midweek knockout game. According to the MLS Decision Day post-game show, the game is schedule for 7 p.m. on Thursday.

Despite the shortened rest time comparative to a bye, manager Tata Martino said the team won’t prepare any differently.

“I don’t really believe in those magic preparations three days before the game. We’ve been playing the same way the whole season so that’s the way you have to looking at it. We’ll go into the game doing hte same thing we’ve done all season,” Martino said. “We’ve played Columbus twice this season. They know how we play and we know how they play. We’ll have home-field advantage but I think it’s an even match up.”

The home-field advantage may prove to be a defining factor in the game. Guzan and the rest of the Five Stripes are looking forward to the playoff atmosphere.

“We know the atmosphere we’ve created here at Mercedes-Benz. We’re looking forward to it now,” Guzan said. “We know that they’re going to create an absolutely amazing atmosphere for us and we know it’s not going to be easy for them”

In addition to Columbus facing that hellacious atmosphere, Atlanta United fans can take solace in the fact that home teams have fared incredibly well in knockout rounds, winning 11 of the last 12 single-elimination games.

In the first year of existence the club finishes the season with the fourth-best goal differential of all-time and becomes only the sixth team to score more than 70 goals in a season.

The Five Stripes beat Columbus in both meetings this season, winning 3-1 at Bobby Dodd Stadium in June and taking home a 2-0 win in Columbus two weeks later.