A lot has happened since April 24th. That was the day of Atlanta United’s first home game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium with a sizeable crowd since 2020. The Five Stripes were still early on in Gabriel Heinze’s tenure and beat Chicago Fire 3-1 thanks in part to a wondergoal from Ezequiel Barco. Heinze has now come and gone, Atlanta suffered through a dreary summer that sent it tumbling to the bottom of the Eastern Conference, and Gonzalo Pineda was brought in as the club’s sixth head coach in five seasons. The whirlwind that has been 2021 is still roaring onwards at full speed but (you would presume) finally nearing its conclusion one way or the other. If the recent trend is anything to go by, however, we still have several twists and turns left. Atlanta’s comeback win over Miami kept its home playoff game hopes alive but it can ill afford a slip up at home against 13th-placed Toronto FC.
The Canadian side has taken on the role of spoiler since Atlanta eliminated it from playoff contention with a 2-0 win at BMO Field. TFC staggered into a 3-0 loss against Miami but has since picked up home draws off CF Montreal and Philadelphia Union. A goal from Jozy Altidore in each game (including a 95th-minute equalizer vs. Montreal) has been the catalyst for Toronto’s (albeit slight) revival and TFC will come into Saturday's encounter with as much confidence is possible for a team with 27 points. Some of Javier Perez’s side’s attention will be on a midweek affair in the Canadian Championship the following Wednesday. Toronto is up against Canadian Premier League side Pacific FC for a place in the final and a Concacaf Champions League berth.
Atlanta, meanwhile, has much more immediate needs. It has a game in hand on all of the teams above it and is a mere two points out of a home playoff game. The Five Stripes will have to jump both NYCFC and Orlando for that to become reality and it could very well take nine points out of nine for that to happen. Following Saturday’s visit from Toronto, Atlanta heads on a two-game road trip against the New York Red Bulls and FC Cincinnati. Gonzalo Pineda’s side has everything left in its own hands but that won’t matter if it can’t take care of business in the final week of the Regular Season.
Predicted Starting XIs
With every game mattering to the extreme form here on out, it’s hard to see Pineda throwing much rotation into the mix. Atlanta looked ten times better in a back four than its usual 3-4-3 against Miami so it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Five Stripes go with a 4-2-3-1 from the start.
Prediction: Atlanta United 3-2 Toronto FC
Atlanta will race out to a multi-goal lead by halftime thanks to strikes from Barco and Luiz Araujo but its struggles to close out games will once again rear its head when Toronto pulls back a consolation goal to make things interesting.