Toronto vs Atlanta United – Saturday 4:30 PT/7:30 ET BMO Field – Toronto, Ontario.
Week five of Major League Soccer brings what may be one of the most anticipated matches in this year’s league calendar. Canadian Champions and MLS Cup runners-up, Toronto FC, are hosting expansion franchise Atlanta United.
In recent years, Toronto have developed from an MLS laughing stock to title contenders. The club, from Canada’s centre of the universe, joined Major League Soccer 12 years ago, but it took until 2015 for the club to reach their first playoffs.
Successive failure in the regular season earned the club a reputation as a failed expansion franchise. Owned by the powerful Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Group (who also own the Toronto Raptors and Canada’s most valuable sport franchise, the Toronto Maple Leafs) Toronto FC, in many ways, reflected the group’s inability to produce championship winning sides.
In order to rectify this problem, Toronto changed strategies. The club hired Tim Bezbatchenko as the new general manager, and began to target Designated Players, who were still in their prime and, although there were some failures at first, this strategy paid off. Among those signed were Michael Bradley, Sebastian Giovinco, and Jozy Altidore, who are now the backbone of the club.
With these players in the squad, Toronto has now qualified for two playoffs in a row, and was within one penalty of winning the MLS Cup last season. With their investment secured, and some of the most exciting players in the league under contract, Toronto are one of the teams to watch this year.
They will next face a franchise that could make the playoffs in their first year of existence. In fact, Atlanta United is anything but conventional.
Guided by the hugely successful Argentine head coach, Gerardo “Tata” Martino, Atlanta have, in essence, opted to make the head coach rather than the player their most important signing. The signing of the former Barcelona head coach has meant that Atlanta was able to attract young and malleable South American talent, who have already taken the league by storm.
In their four matches this season, Atlanta narrowly lost to New York Red Bulls (2-1), defeated Minnesota United (6-1) and Chicago (4-0), and drew MLS Cup champions Seattle (0-0). In all the games Atlanta displayed the sort of football that is more common in Latin America, which seems to overwhelm most of the teams they are facing.
In fact, Atlanta’s brand of football has already brought in a breath of fresh air to a league that is trying to establish itself as a brand between the emerging Liga MX, and the already-established European leagues.
Toronto vs Atlanta United – Players to look out for:
Sebastian Giovinco #10 – Toronto FC
The now 30-year-old Sebastian Giovinco has established himself as the league’s best player since joining Toronto in February 2015. Over the past two seasons, Giovinco has dominated the league by scoring 22 goals in 33 games in his first year, and 17 goals in 28 games in his second season. Actually, the Atomic Ant, as he is known in Toronto, has single handedly transformed the club into one of the most recognized sport franchises of Major League Soccer.
Miguel Almirón #10 – Atlanta United
Miguel Almirón could become for Atlanta what Giovinco is for Toronto. The 23-year-old Paraguayan surprised many when he opted against a move to Europe( (he was linked to Arsenal and Zenit) and joined Atlanta United instead. An exciting player who can act as a playmaker, but who can also play on the wing in a 4-3-3 formation, Almirón has not taken long to adapt to Major League Soccer, scoring two goals in his first four matches in the league.
Toronto vs Atlanta United – Match Stats
- This is the first ever matchup between the two clubs.
- This will be Atlanta’s second game in a four-game road trip.
- Toronto are still undefeated this season. (W1 D3).
Prediction: Toronto vs Atlanta United 3-2
Bono – Beitashour, Moor, Zavaleta, Hagglund – Vázquez, Bradley, Osorio, Endoh – Altidore, Giovinco
Coach: Greg Vanney
Kann – Garza, González, Parkhurst, Mears – McCann, Larentowicz, Gressel – Almirón, Villalba, Asad
Coach: Gerardo Martino