Atlanta, GA- The madness of the MLS Cup Playoffs continued Wednesday night in Atlanta as the number four seeded Toronto FC stun defending champion Atlanta United 2-1 inside a hostile Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The match looked one-sided early, as Atlanta was aggressive offensively from the outset, and actually took a 1-0 advantage thanks to a beautiful play finished off by a chip in from Julian Gressel. The goal was set up thanks to a great assist from Pity Martinez, who baited in the Toronto defense before finding the wide-open Gressel for the score. The Five Stripes would look to immediately add-on to their lead, and went to work with a more aggressive offensive attack.
In the 11th minute, Pity Martinez took a hard penalty inside the box by Toronto’s Michael Bradley, setting up a penalty kick for Atlanta star Josef Martinez. IN a play that really changed the momentum of the game, Toronto goalie Quentin Westberg guessed correctly on the attempt, keeping the score 1-0 in favor Atlanta. DeBoer said after the match that Josef was dealing with a minor hamstring injury (which you could see was wrapped for the game). Atlanta and Josef felt confident he could play through it, but it may have effected his ability on the penalty kick.
De Boer on the decision to use Josef tonight, ““If I look back, I would make the decision again,” de Boer said. “Josef is always there when we needed him. I believe, and we also believe, that he could make a decisive goal. He was close, but not close enough today.”
Just five minutes later, Toronto would find their equalizer off a tremendous strike from Nicolas Benezet. The shot bent just passed the outstretched Brad Guzan, stunning the Atlanta home crowd.
Although their lead was now lost, Atlanta continued to try and work through their offense to try and get the game back on track. Controlling the ball for 59.5% of the match, the Five Stripes would create chance after chance, but could never break through the Toronto defense enough to pull out the win. 15 total shots in the game (with five on target), it felt as if it was a matter of time before they could find the net. Unfortunately, that time never came, and the Toronto was able to provide a counter-attack for the dagger.
In the 78th minute, another beautiful shot by Toronto (this time by Nick DeLeon) gave them the 2-1 advantage, and the visiting squad was able to hold on defensively and advance to the MLS Cup Final to take on the Seattle Sounders on November 10th.
It was a tough loss for Atlanta, who fall victim to the new MLS Playoff single-elimination format that was introduced for the 2019 season. Toronto deserves a ton of credit for their defensive effort, and capitalized on two great shots to seal the win. The defending champs hopes of back-to-back MLS Cup Trophies has come to a close, and they will now look to rebound for the 2020 season.
Written by Brian Pohl