Atlanta United returned from its two week hiatus against Toronto FC at BMO Field Saturday night with a bang, earning a 2-0 win (for the first time ever) at Toronto’s home stadium. This game had it all: Goals that don't make much sense, red cards, and nine minutes of stoppage time.
“Winning this one away was a very very good statement from the team, to say ‘Hey we really want to be in the playoffs,’” said head coach Gonzalo Pineda. “I needed this trend for the next three games at home, I needed this confidence, I needed this mood in the locker room after the game because it was a massive, massive victory.”
Most importantly though, Atlanta United is now back above the playoff line in 5th place. Atlanta could finish the weekend in 6th if NYCFC defeats New York Red Bulls on Sunday at 1 p.m. (in case you want to watch along for Atlanta’s playoff implications). NYCFC travels to Atlanta on Wednesday, so that should be interesting to follow along.
Josef Martinez has been dealing with a knee and hamstring injury, so he didn’t travel to Toronto and is listed as “questionable” on the MLS Injury Report. George Bello and Miles Robinson stepped straight back into the starting XI after returning from International duty with the USMNT.
Atlanta started the game poorly and failed to create many chances throughout the opening 20 minutes. George Bello managed to cross the ball to Marcelino Moreno in Toronto’s penalty area in the 21st, but the midfielder missed the target. Then in the 25th minute, Santiago Sosa ripped a shot that forced Toronto goalkeeper Alex Bono into an outstretched save.
What this clip doesn’t show is the insanity that followed that save. Brooks Lennon sent a cross into the Toronto penalty area, and it ends with George Bello taking a powerful strike that deflected off a defender and onto the crossbar.
Atlanta didn't have to wait too much longer for the opening goal. During first half stoppage time, Ezequiel Barco and George Bello played a one-two pass in behind Toronto’s backline. Bello then found Luiz Araújo to open the scoring. It wasn’t a clean finish, but Bono couldn’t reach the looping ball.
Four minutes into the second half, Atlanta constructed a spectacular counterattack. But the move faltered at the final moment. I agree with Matt Doyle’s assessment of the play here.
Things got kind of wild at the end of this game, and I’m not entirely sure what kicked it off. Toronto’s Auro and Barco both earned straight red cards and were sent off, and the referee added nine minutes of stoppage time. After a lot of confusion and chaos, the match resumed. Funnily enough, the game wasn’t over yet and there were a few more moments that matter to the result.
Brad Guzan came up with a critical, close range save halfway through stoppage time to preserve Atlanta’s 1-0 lead. (I haven’t seen a clip of Guzan’s save anywhere on Twitter, but it deserves to be clipped.) It proved to be decisive, coming just minutes before Moreno’s stoppage time goal to extend the Five Stripes’ lead.
Obviously it’s a big win for Atlanta and one shouldn't complain when one wins, but Atlanta definitely had some chances it could have finished off.
“Obviously we can be more clinical because I felt that we created a few more chances that we can put the ball inside the goal, and we didn't,” Pineda said. “So we need to continue that trend of being clinical in the right moments, but at the same we scored two goals in a very difficult stadium against a very good team.”
Prepare yourself for another home match on a Wednesday (this one is going to be hugely important). Atlanta United returns to the Benz this upcoming Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. to play NYCFC. Atlanta is in the final stretch of the 2021 season. There are now five regular season games left to play, and the next three games will be played in Atlanta (NYCFC, Inter Miami, and Toronto again). New York Red Bulls and Cincinnati are Atlanta’s final two opponents of the season, and both of those matches are on the road.
So, yeah. Every game is a big game and we are at a critical point of the season. Should be fun.