Atlanta United is coming off of a disappointing performance in the MLS All Star game as it lost in penalties to Juventus.
Worse still, fans didn’t get to see Zlatan and Josef Martinez team up for double hat tricks because, despite being a god or a lion or shameless self-promoter, the Swedish legend decided to rest up after logging a lot of minutes while still recovering from serious knee surgery.
Anyway, onto the Prekrap...
Like maple syrup, Canada’s evil oozes over the United States
Canada, what with their passive aggressive smugness masked as humility as they do things like give their citizens healthcare and win MLS Cup will send their best soccer team to Atlanta this weekend. Toronto FC is the best team in MLS history to ever earn 69 points in a season to then turn around and have the best ever showing in the Concacaf Champions League when they lost to the 17th place team from the LigaMX Clausura and then have six wins through 21 games.
Despite being terrible through most of the 2018 season Toronto is coming around, and by coming around I mean they got to play the somehow worse Chicago Fire in back to back games because MLS is a good league and schedules games like that. Those wins have TFC six points out of the MLS playoffs and in a position to perhaps make an unlikely playoff run. Though they will have to answer a very pertinent question: are they good actually or did they beat a weirdly assembled team with a world class midfielder, a bunch of draft picks and underperforming homegrown players on it?
Standing in their way is Atlanta United, a team they did not manage to beat in their historic season when they were the best squad in MLS history. It seems unlikely that Toronto will try to play Atlanta United in an open game. Not a lot of teams have had success doing that so far this year against the Five Stripes, meaning when Atlanta goes on the road teams come at them and get trounced in transition, so expect some version of public transportation soccer out of the visitors this weekend.
Toronto has struggled for much of this year thanks to injuries. Against the Chicago Fire, who played right back Brandon Vincent as a center back for some reason, the team had their strongest lineup and the result was a dominant 3-0 victory. The lineup featured Jozy “BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO” Altidore at striker, he scored a goal even, alongside Sebastian Giovinco in a 3-5-2 with Michael “BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO” Bradley back in his regular no. 6 role. Bradley spent some of the year playing center back and his patented - close down an attacker but don’t really do much to challenge the ball - defending has helped Toronto give up 39 goals this year.
Basically, expect Toronto to try to clog up the midfield, cede possession to Atlanta and then try to work the counter with Altidore making runs to draw defenders away from Giovinco as Jonathan Osorio, Vincent Vazquez, and Bradley try to play him through Atlanta’s defense. It might work for the visitors, despite being very bad this year they have actually managed to score more goals as a team than Josef Martinez has by himself this year.
Atlanta United - looking for success against 10th place teams
Since losing to the NY Red Bulls on May 20, Atlanta United has amassed a 6-4-1 record with the only loss coming on the road to FC Dallas in a game we will never speak of again. Most teams would gladly take 22 points out of 11 games, but two of those draws - to Seattle and Portland at home - are probably not sitting well with the team. Still, Atlanta has 47 points through 23 games and is on pace to have a 69 point season - hi Toronto.
There is a lot of work to be done and Atlanta United will need to beat teams it is better than in order to win the Supporter’s Shield. As it stands now, Atlanta is leading in the points race and while NYCFC, FC Dallas, and NY Red Bulls have games in hand, that isn’t the same as points on the table, especially as two of those teams adjust to their new coaches. In short, Atlanta controls its destiny and the result Saturday will go a long way in determining its fate with a stretch of five of the next seven matches away after this weekend.
As far as how Atlanta will try to beat Toronto, Tata Martino will have to rely on his defensive depth as it seems like Michael Parkhurst, Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez, and Miles Robinson are the only natural defenders who will be available with Sal Zizzo, Franco Escobar, and Mikey Ambrose all out. Where’s Anton Walkes these days? Wherever he is, he might end up watching Atlanta play in a three center back formation. Should the team go that route, Julian Gressel will be back to his role at the beginning of the season sending cutbacks in toward goal and Chris McCann will be on the other side of the pitch trying to slow down Giovinco and Altidore. On the other hand, perhaps Gressel starts as an out and out right back with Robinson on the bench - I’m tempted so say this will absolutely not happen, but know that if I do it inevitably will.
However the team lines up they will again face the challenge of most likely needing to turn their possession into chances in the highly random world of trying to score against teams that park the bus and they will have to do it against a team that is either rounding into form or just managed to get some good results against an increasingly awful looking Chicago Fire team.
Let’s play a game
Everyone really enjoyed it when I did this last week so maybe I’ll make it a thing. By beating Toronto FC, Atlanta United will have taken all possible points against Canadian opposition this season so far - if they win Saturday and again in October and sweep Toronto this year they will be awarded the Voyageurs Cup: True or False?
Will it even matter when this game seems destined to end in a 2-2 draw?