Atlanta United ends inaugural regular season in draw with Toronto, headed to playoffs

Written by Derek Robbie

Atlanta United and Toronto FC tied 2-2 in a playoff-like match. Both teams look ready to take on what the MLS Playoffs have in store.

Atlanta United started the first few minutes with their collective foot on the gas. They nearly had the ball in Toronto’s half for the first five minutes of the match. Atlanta’s first chance of the contest fell to left wingback Chris McCann who ripped a shot from the top of the 18-yard box that went just wide of the goal.

Additionally, every time Toronto FC’s Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore touched the ball the boos started raining down from the Atlanta fans. They both were most likely booed for being a part of the United States Mens National Team squad that failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

“I don’t share the opinion that those players should be booed,” said Atlanta United head coach Tata Martino. “The players don’t deserve it. The players just try to do their best. And to be honest, I didn’t really expect that from our crowd.”

By the 15th minute Toronto FC had settled down and found their way back into the match. A few half chances fell to both forwards, Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore. Although, neither could capitalize on their chances. Altidore found his way behind Atlanta’s back 3 a couple of times, but he was offsides twice in the span of five minutes.

The next memorable moment of the game came in the 28th minute when the referee went to Video Assistant Referee, or VAR for short, several minutes after the incident occurred. So, the ref was reviewing whether one of the Toronto center backs hit the ball with his hand intentionally. After several minutes reviewing the play, the referee awarded Atlanta United with a penalty. The Five Stripes’ winger, Yamil Asad stepped up to the spot and slotted the penalty into the bottom corner to give his side the 1-0 lead.

United was firmly in control for the final 15 minutes of the first half. Atlanta’s Josef Martínez saw numerous half chances fall to his feet, but in the end, he could not take advantage of them.

The beginning of the second half was similar to the first half because the Five Stripes seemed to be playing at a different pace than Toronto FC. The best opportunity for United fell to winger Héctor Villalba when his teammate, Julian Gressel played him through. Villalba rifled the shot from outside the box on the right side that was blocked by an opposing defender.

In the 60th minute, Toronto FC’s center back played a beautiful ball over the top of United’s back line to Altidore. Altidore hit the shot first time on the half-volley to place it in the back of the net to tie the game at 1-1.

Only 14 minutes later, in the 74th minute, Atlanta United’s Villalba whipped a cross into the six-yard box where superstar Josef Martínez was there pass it into the back of the net. Martínez’s goal gave United a 2-1 lead with only 15 minutes remaining.

In the 81st minute, Giovinco was fouled by Atlanta’s captain Michael Parkhurst about 30 yards out. Parkhurst got injured on the foul, and was forced to be substituted. In the 84th minute, Giovinco hit the free kick with the perfect combination of power and placement, putting it in the top left corner to beat Guzan. Giovinco’s wonder strike tied the match at 2-2.

Due to drawing the match 2-2, Atlanta United will host Columbus Crew this Wednesday or Thursday evening in the first round of the playoffs. The exact date will be released within the next 24 hours.

“I think the draw was fair,” said Martino. “The way the game went, and the way the two teams played I think a draw was a fair result.”

Atlanta United Starting XI: [G] Brad Guzan; [D] Julian Gressel, Michael Parkhurst (C), Jeff Larentowicz, Anton Walkes, Chris McCann; [M] Héctor Villalba, Kevin Kratz, Carlos Carmona, Yamil Asad; [F] Josef Martínez.

Toronto FC XI: [G] Alexander Bono; [D] Chris Mavinga, Drew Moore, Steven Beitashour; [M] Justin Morrow, Victor Vázquez, Michael Bradley (C), Marco Delgado, Jonathan Osorio; Jozy Altidore, Sebastian Giovinco

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