As inconsistent as Atlanta United has been under Gonzalo Pineda, one thing has stayed true week after week - winning on the road, or rather a lack thereof. In the 12 road games the Five Stripes have played under the Mexican, the good guys have earned three points just three times, two of which came last season. In fact, the only away victory Atlanta has picked up in six tries this year came against the penultimate placed team DC United. Atlanta will get a chance to do one better this weekend, however, when it visits 12th-placed Toronto FC. Progress!
Bob Bradley’s debut season at the helm in Canada hasn’t quite gone to play, with Toronto sitting 12th on 15 points after as many games. Expected goals paint an even dreaeier picture - Toronto has an expected goal differential of -17.7, over ten goals worst than the next best team. The Reds have placed a huge emphasis on giving starting minutes to its plethora of teenagers, but so far none of the youngsters have quite made the jump. Toronto’s woes are most pronounced in defense - it ranks last in the Eastern Conference with 29 goals conceded and hasn’t kept a clean sheet in regular season play. It has one win in its last eight matches, being outscored 17-10 in the that timeframe.
But as that second number would suggest, Toronto is no slouch offensively, at least for now. The Canadian side has the 7th best attack in the East, spearheaded by Spanish striker Jesus Jimenez (7g, 3a). Jimenez hasn’t scored in his last six, however, and there’s reason to believe Toronto will soon follow the 28-year-old’s downward trend - they’re overperforming their expected goals tally (which is the worst in the East) by 5.5 goals and have seen a signiggant drop off in output from DP number 10 Alejandro Pozuelo. There is some hope in the form of 22-year-old forward Ayo Akinola who’s finally recovered from a long injury layoff and scored twice in Toronto’s 4-0 Canadian Champiosnhip semifinal win over CF Montreal, easily TFC’s best showing of the season (and just in time for Atlanta...).
Atlanta’s 2-0 win over Miami broke a run of four games without a victory but the going only gets harder from here. The good guys embark on a three game road trip to Toronto, the New York Red Bulls, and NYCFC. If you aren’t well-versed in Five Stripes history, those are not exactly venues where Atlanta has thrived over the year. And thanks to its aforementioned struggles, Atlanta will need at least a result or two to stay in touch with the playoff line and Toronto offers it the best chance ahead of the daunting New York trip. The Five Stripes currently sit 9th on 19 points, one below 7th-placed Charlotte but four short of a rapidly accelerating New England in 6th.
Predicted Starting XIs
Prediction: Toronto FC 1-3 Atlanta United
Atlanta’s attack will thrive against Toronto’s porous defense, with Josef Martinez (x2) and Marcelino Moreno bagging the goals in a one-sided win, though a late Akinola consolation goal will ruin the clean sheet.