Another incredible season, but it ends a step short for Atlanta United, who fell 2-1 to Toronto FC in the Eastern Conference Final Wednesday.
Head coach Frank de Boer opted for nearly the same lineup that got the Five Stripes into the Eastern Conference, making only one change in the Starting XI. That was thanks to the captain, Michael Parkhurst, returning from injury in place of Mikey Ambrose, with Florentin Pogba pushing out in Ambrose’s left back position. The full Starting XI: Brad Guzan (GK), Florentin Pogba (LB), Leandro González Pirez (CB), Michael Parkhurst (CB), Franco Escobar (RB), Jeff Larentowicz (CM), Darlington Nagbe (CM), Pity Martínez (CM), Ezequiel Barco (LW), Josef Martinez (ST), Julian Gressel (RW).
The action started from the opening whistle, with both teams pushing into the attack. Atlanta United’s pressure paid off just four minutes into the match, with the same pair opening the score as did last time out. It started with a ball from the back from Brad Guzan, which was flicked forward by Florentin Pogba on the left wing onto the foot of Ezequiel Barco. Pity Martínez timed his run behind the back line perfectly, and Barco’s looping through ball put him free behind the Toronto defense. Pity darted into the space, got the goalkeeper to commit, and laid off a perfect pass for Julian Gressel to tap into an empty net.
Atlanta United nearly doubled their lead just five minutes later from the penalty spot. It came from another ball lobbed over the top, with Pity Martínez taking it down in the opposing penalty box only to be taken down by Michael Bradley. The ref pointed to the spot, but the Five Stripes weren’t able to take advantage, with Josef Martinez’s low effort kept out of the goal. Toronto took advantage quickly, with Toronto’s Nicholas Benezet cutting in from the left wing just four minutes later to hit a curling effort off the post and in. That’s how the teams would go into the half after a tense opening stanza, with everything to play for in the second half.
Atlanta United came out with the same dominance in possession, but struggled to create chances against a compact, well-drilled defense. With the game calling out for a moment of brilliance, it unfortunately came from the visitors when Nick DeLeon hit an unstoppable top corner finish against the run of play with just over then minutes left on the clock. Atlanta United poured men forward but couldn’t find the breakthrough, with Toronto FC ending the match 2-1 winners.