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Atlanta United at Toronto FC: Three Questions

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with SB Nation’s Waking the Red

FC Dallas v Toronto FC Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

To get everyone ready for Atlanta United’s match against 2016 MLS Cup finalist Toronto FC, we spoke with Waking the Red’s Oliver Platt to get his take on Clint Irwin, Toronto’s attack, and their start to the campaign.

To see what they wanted to know about Atlanta United, read their post here.

DSS: Is the absence of Clint Irwin for Saturday's match a difficult loss for Toronto?

WTR: Irwin is the more experienced of Toronto FC's goalkeepers and has been a valuable acquisition, but the Reds have one of the best backups in the league in Alex Bono. Bono is only 22 and will get games this season regardless of Irwin's health, with Greg Vanney inserting him into the lineup for the trip to the Vancouver Whitecaps. He kept a clean sheet there and was spotless in his 50 minutes of play against Sporting Kansas City after coming on as a substitute, making a few timely saves to prevent SKC sucker-punching Toronto on the break, and if he keeps it up Vanney will have a difficult decision to make when Irwin returns.

Unless Bono's form dips - and, at his age, that may happen at some point - or he gets injured himself, not much will really change. The 2015 first-round pick has the higher upside of TFC's two keepers and is realizing it quicker than expected.

DSS: Four goals in four matches isn't great considering the talent Toronto's attack boasts. Are there any tactical explanations for their early struggles?

WTR: Firstly, the rhythm of Toronto's best forwards and midfielders has been broken up a little bit. Sebastian Giovinco sat out a game-and-a-half with an injury, Jozy Altidore was restricted to a place on the bench after playing for the USA last week and Victor Vazquez, TFC's big offseason signing, is only just getting up to full fitness. Justin Morrow, another major threat from left wing-back, also missed the SKC game with a minor injury and on the opposite side Steven Beitashour sat one out with concussion.

That has hindered Toronto to a certain extent, but the chances have still been there. While the finishing hasn't been perfect, a bigger issue has been the quality of their final pass (which I would suggest explains why their expected goals number is mediocre) and once they're able to get a 'front five' of Giovinco, Altidore, Morrow, Beitashour, Vazquez and Jonathan Osorio or Armando Cooper on the field consistently, it's hard to see that not improving.

It's also worth bearing in mind that they have played three road games. In short, I agree with Vanney when he says that TFC's three clean sheets out of four so far is a much bigger positive and indicator of future success than their four goals scored is a negative or something to worry about - the personnel is just too good for that to persist.

DSS: What are your main takeaways from Toronto's start to the season?

WTR: There's plenty of room for improvement, but we haven't seen anything dramatically wrong that would suggest this team will not return to the playoffs as an MLS Cup contender. Again, the big positive is that the defence has looked solid. It features a couple of younger, less-proven players in Eriq Zavaleta and Nick Hagglund who were the most probable cause of any regression this year, and that they have picked up where they left off in last season's playoffs bodes well.

I'm also excited about Vazquez, who is just finding his feet. He played his best game yet against Sporting KC after having the international break to build up his physical condition a little more. Once he begins to really exert his influence it will encourage Giovinco to stay up front rather than dropping deep to make things happen; though his freelancing produces something for the highlight reels every once in a while, I'm not sure it's great for the team's shape the majority of the time.