Atlanta United’s Bermuda Triangle of games is almost over. The Five Stripes have fared quite well so far (perhaps surprisingly) against both New York teams and now look to keep the momentum alive against yet another team that’s been a constant annoyance for the Five Stripes, especially on the road: Toronto FC.
Atlanta has already faced off with the Reds once this season, a Week 2 encounter that ended 1-1 with goals from Federico Bernardeschi and Matheus Rossetto. Since then Bob Bradley’s side has gone on a five-game unbeaten run, albeit four of which were drawn. It sits 9th in the Easter Conference on 8 points and has middle-of-the-table numbers in terms of both goals scored (8) and conceded (7) - as would be expected by a team that’s drawn the majority of its games and doesn’t seem to have overwhelming strengths other than a knack for keeping games close.
With Lorenzo Insigne still sidelined with injury, Federico Bernardeschi is Toronto’s main and only dangerman with 3 goals and one assist, as Atlanta found out the hard way back in March. Adama Diomande is also still unavailable due to injury, bringing Toronto’s tally of starting attackers out to 2. That’s quite apparent on the stat sheet, as midfielders Michael Bradley and Mark Anthony-Kaye are the only players other than Bernardeschi to have more than one goal contribution. The defense has at least partially made up for Toronto’s lack of offensive dynamism as the Reds boast 3 shutouts, tied for the 6th most in MLS.
On paper, this is shaping up to be a game of few goals, and all the more so if Thiago Almada isn’t good to go from the start. The Argentinian is the heart and soul of Atlanta’s attack and if he’s not fully fit, Gonzalo Pineda will have his hands full coming up with a better contingency plan than the last time Atlanta lacked Almada. Brad Guzan is another addition to the injury list and is unfortunately set for a long-term stay, bringing either Clement Diop or Quentin Wesberg into the XI. Last but not least comes Franco Ibarra, who will miss Saturday with suspension after his red card against New York, though Santiago Sosa should slot into the eleven for him with relatively fewer problems than the other absentees.
While last weekend’s draw at NYCFC was costly in terms of personnel, it did have its benefits in the standings as Atlanta remains 3rd on 14 points. While still early stages, the East is developing a bit of a gap between the top four (separated by three points) and the mid-table clump (6th place through 12th are also a mere three points apart). Atlanta is on the right side of that division and closing out a tricky road trip with a positive result would be another step toward securing a position near the top of the conference for the Five Stripes.
Atlanta has struggled heavily in Toronto over the years, managing just a 1W-1D-4L record at BMO Field, while the overall tally is at the far more equitable 4W-5D-4L mark in the Reds’ favor.
Predicted Starting XIs
Prediction: Toronto FC 1-1 Atlanta United
Two of Toronto’s last 3 games finished scoreless, and while Saturday won’t be quite so uneventful, it won’t be far off either. Atlanta will open the scoring through the in-form Giorgos Giakoumakis but Toronto will answer back through Bernardeschi once again.