Atlanta United Picks Up Three Crucial Points With 2-0 Win In Toronto; Marcelino Moreno, Luiz Araujo Score

Atlanta returned to action after a two week break and kicked off the final three weeks of its season with an important 2-0 win over Toronto FC on Saturday, the club’s first all-time victory at BMO Field.

The three points moved Atlanta to 42 on the season, enough to lift the club above the playoff line into fifth place in the Eastern Conference at the time the match ended.

The result eliminated Toronto from playoff contention.

“It was a massive victory,” head coach Gonzalo Pineda said after the match.

Atlanta’s first goal came during stoppage time in the first half. Defender George Bello cut the ball to initiate a give-and-go with midfielder Ezequiel Barco on the left side. Bello then made a one-touch cross on the ground into the box. Striker Luiz Arújo didn’t hit the ball hard or cleanly, but the ball’s bounce spun it above the reach of Toronto goalkeeper Alex Bono to give Atlanta a 1-0 lead.

The goal was Araújo’s second of the season. The assist was Bello’s third and Barco's seventh.

“There’s other games when I hit the ball well and didn't score, so I’m very happy this one went in,” Araújo said.

Marcelino Moreno added with a goal of his own in the 97th minute. On a fast break, the midfielder took the ball across the field 1v1, then slid a shot opposite Bono’s momentum to ice the win for Atlanta. It was Moreno's eighth goal of the season.

The result ended Toronto’s best run of the season. The club came into Saturday unbeaten in four matches and won its last three at home.

“Overall, I feel like we handled all the pressure they put on us really well and happy we came out with a W,” Bello said.

Atlanta may not have preserved the win were it not for a massive save from goalkeeper Brad Guzan. Toronto very nearly evened the match in stoppage time with a header from defender Omar Gonzalez.

“The massive save from Brad, who showed at the right moment why he’s our captain and why he’s the leader of the team,” Pineda said. “He just kept us in the game.”

After a quiet first 20 minutes, the 21st seemed to flip a switch for Atlanta’s attack. The tempo increased after Barco took the ball down the center of the field and passed it out to Bello streaming down the sideline. Bello’s one-touch pass found Moreno in the center of the box, but Moreno’s shot missed.

Atlanta’s pressure sustained in the following minutes. Barco drew a foul in the 24th. He took the penalty kick and drove it low, but Bono came up with the save.

His foul on Barco injured Ifunanyachi Achara. The Toronto striker was substituted off in the 31st minute.

Atlanta followed Barco’s penalty kick with a barrage of shots. Midfielder Santiago Sosa ripped one from the left side. Defender Brooks Lennon corralled the rebound and crossed the ball in the box to Bello, whose hard-hit shot went off the crossbar. Then, Moreno got a chance but his shot missed to conclude a rapid sequence for Atlanta.

The passing between Bello and Barco that led to Atlanta’s first goal nearly created another golden moment in the 50th minute, but Moreno’s shot went wide to the right.

“There’s a lot of talent, so it’s easy to just come right in and play soccer,” Bello said. “So, I’m really happy with how it went.”

Getting on the board first on Saturday forecasted good things for Atlanta. All 11 of Atlanta’s wins so far this season have come after scoring the first goal in the match.

It was especially important on Saturday for Atlanta to find some offensive rhythm since it was without striker Josef Martínez. The club’s leading scorer did not make the trip to Toronto. He’s still day-to-day with a tight hamstring.

“We scored two goals in a very difficult stadium against a very good team and a very good coach,” Pineda said. “We will continue the sharpness in the attacking, but I’m very happy we’re creating enough chances.”

Toronto got the first chance of the game in the fourth minute. A fluid buildup led to a right-footed shot by midfielder Jonathan Osorio which clanged off the crossbar.

Other opportunities came for Toronto throughout the match, mostly when Atlanta had trouble clearing the ball in the box. In the 36th minute, forward Yeferson Soteldo slipped the ball to an open Richie Laryea inside the box. The midfielder’s close-range shot went high. Later, Midfielder Alejandro Pozuelo had the ball in the box in the 78th. He stuck with it, fighting his way through a group of Atlanta defenders, until Atlanta eventually cleared the ball.

The two teams differed in shots by only one (17 for Atlanta, 16 for Toronto), but Atlanta was able to take advantage of its chances and put more shots on goal.

“I was just enjoying the game from the sidelines looking at the team that was fighting for every goal, competing, and that’s what makes us very proud as coaches,” Pineda said.

The Atlanta defense came up with some big stops led by Miles Robinson. He displayed superb defending in the 41st minute when he engaged in a challenge and forced Toronto midfielder Jacob Shaelburg out-of-bounds for a goal kick, then again in the 43rd when he headed out a dangerous cross. Robinson had a game-high seven clearances.

Defender Alan Franco had a nice stop in the 57th on a breakaway. Franco took advantage of Shaelburg’s poor touch and put an immediate stop on Toronto’s attack.

The Atlanta defense held Toronto to four shots on goal. Together, the squad won 20 more duels than Toronto (51 to Toronto's 31). This advantage spurred the attack and eventually created the chance for Moreno's late goal.

“I always want to give some credit to the center backs because they start the buildup to the center mids that break lines to create chances,” Pineda said.

Barco was issued a red card in the final minutes of the match along with Toronto defender Auro Jr. The penalty means Atlanta will be without Barco for its next match.

The ordeal resulted in nine minutes of stoppage time added on to the second half.

This was the second of three meetings between Atlanta and Toronto during the regular season. Atlanta won the first meeting 1-0 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on August 18. The teams meet again in two weeks at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Oct. 30.

Up next, Atlanta returns home to kick off a three-game homestand next week. It faces New York City on October 20. The club will be looking to build off the momentum created from a crucial road win.

“I mean the talent is there and once we have that mentality and knowing that not all games are going to go perfect,” Bello said. “If we just dig deep and get results like today, we’re going to be fine and make the playoffs.”