On Sunday, Atlanta United picked up its first ever win against Sporting Kansas City in a 3-0 affair. With that, the list of teams they’ve never beaten was whittled down to three: the Seattle Sounders, FC Cincinnati and Toronto FC. Atlanta are 0-1-3 all time against the Reds, with the first three matches ending in 2-2 draws and the fourth one, a 4-1 Toronto win at BMO Field, costing the Five Stripes the Supporters Shield on the final day of the 2018 regular season.
Benedict Rhodes, who writes for our sister site, Waking the Red, answered a few questions I had for him about the state of Toronto FC heading into tonight’s matchup against Atlanta United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Even without Jozy Altidore, TFC appear to have shaken off last year’s struggles and have captured points in 6 of its first 8 matches. What’s been the biggest difference between this year’s group and last year’s?
Although there are some uncertainties defensively, Toronto FC are scoring goals at an incredible pace. Through eight games, they have scored 21 goals, by far the most they’ve ever scored in their first eight games. Alejandro Pozuelo, who I’ll get to in a minute, has been sensational thus far, and his addition to the squad has been huge.
Let’s dive into Alejandro Pozuelo and his performance this season. What new dimensions does he add to this Toronto attacking corps?
Alejandro Pozuelo is having an MVP-calibre start to his Toronto FC career. His vision is incredible, and it seems as though he can see every blade of grass on the pitch at the same time. Nobody knows which foot is his dominant one, which allows him to pass the ball to anyone on the pitch at any time, catching people off-guard. He can also shoot the ball, and has scored four incredible goals so far to go along with his assists.
Who are a couple of “under the radar” players Atlanta United fans should be keeping an eye on for Wednesday?
Greg Vanney’s starting lineup is pretty predictable at the moment, with most positions locked down, but there are a pair players who could play a role on Wednesday that may not be household names.
-The first is forward Ayo Akinola. He is a winger/ striker and USMNT youth international who has been pretty good in his limited minutes this season. In just 169 minutes, he has scored once, an impressive solo effort against the New England Revolution, picked up one assist and makes some good movement off the ball, which can open up space for his teammates. He’s one to watch in this game, and in the future for the USMNT.
-The second player to watch is Jay Chapman. Chapman scored an incredible goal on Saturday against Orlando and can be a real threat to defenders if/when he comes off the bench. He’s definitely one of TFC’s super-subs.