Atlanta United’s season continues with their second straight Eastern Conference Final at Mercedes-Benz Stadium this weekend. Standing between them and a place in MLS Cup is Toronto FC, fresh off their upset win over NYCFC in New York. In the MLS Cup Playoffs, everything can change with one moment of magic –– so make sure you’re there for a chance at history.
It all kicks off Wednesday at 8:00 p.m. ET on FS1. If you can’t make the trip, click here for all the ways to tune in.
Atlanta United - #2 seed
Atlanta United come into the match after a confidence-boosting win over the Philadelphia Union at Mercedes-Benz Stadium last week. They’ll be hoping to use that home-field advantage earned this year to clinch their spot in a second straight MLS Cup.
Their postseason success has come down to making their home pitch a fortress for visiting teams. The Five Stripes have now hosted six MLS Cup Playoff games at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and have only conceded one goal in those matches combined. Brad Guzan’s six postseason clean sheets since joining MLS in 2017 are two more than any other goalkeeper in the league in that time. Despite Miles Robinson and Michael Parkhurst missing last match with injury to thin the ranks in the back line, they stepped up as a unit to keep a talented Philadelphia Union side out the goal just last week. The players have preached the importance of intensity in the playoffs ever since the start of last postseason. If they can re-capture that winning mentality, they can set themselves up for success with another goal-free night in Atlanta.
That would set up the attack to go out and win the match through a moment of magic of their own. Pity Martínez’s introduction into the front third last week put the Union on the back foot, combining well with Ezequiel Barco, who is thriving with his signature skill since returning from injury. And watch out for the resurgent Julian Gressel, who is combining with Franco Escobar on the right flank to run rampant so far in the postseason. Gressel came out of the Conference Semifinals with another goal and assist for his season tally, and looks as likely as anyone to create a moment of magic for himself or a teammate that can turn a match on its head. With Josef Martinez showing last week that he only needs an inch to get a goal of his own, this is a team in good form at the right time as they run the gauntlet of knockout postseason play.
Toronto FC - #4 seed
Atlanta United’s challenger for a spot in MLS Cup is a team that is peaking at the right time in the season. Toronto FC is unbeaten in their last twelve league matches, and played giantkiller last weekend by upsetting top-seeded NYCFC in New York –– they’ll be keen to show they’re ready for another major road match this week.
The biggest question mark is the availability of U.S. international Jozy Altidore, who has been held out of both of Toronto’s postseason matches this year with injury. But Toronto has shown they’re more than capable without him, with playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo stepping up into the role of goalscorer last week in New York City. Pozuelo will be floating around the attacking third looking to get on the ball as much as possible, but head coach Greg Vanney told reporters before that match that the midfield is where Toronto is strongest right now. Michael Bradley, Marky Delgado and Jonathan Osorio form a solid core in the middle of the field, and they can get forward as well, with a combined three goals in their opening-round postseason match against D.C. United.
Another injury question looms over the back line, with Omar Gonzalez not able to play last match against NYCFC. But keep an eye out on Richie Laryea on the right flank. Laryea is in one of the best moments of his career, stepping up big for Canada in their first win over the U.S. Men’s National Team earlier this month, while scoring in the first round and drawing the decisive penalty in the second match of the MLS Cup Playoffs. With veterans in Laurent Ciman, Chris Mavinga and Justin Morrow filling out the back line, don’t expect any drop in performance should Gonzalez not be ready for Wednesday. Cap it off with an in-form goalkeeper with Quentin Westberg thriving since taking the starting job from Alex Bono, and this is a defense that will be tough for any team to break down in the postseason.
It’s that time of year where every opponent is a tough one, but Atlanta United will always be confident in their home fortress of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Click here to reserve your tickets, or if you can’t make the trip, click here for all the ways to tune in.