Atlanta United clinches home-field playoff match in hard-fought draw with Toronto


A thrilling regular season finale for Atlanta United, who clinched a home playoff match in a record-breaking 2-2 draw with Toronto FC Sunday.

With Leandro González Pirez suspended for the match due to yellow card accumulation and Miguel Almirón only fit enough to make the bench, head coach Tata Martino shuffled the deck with a three-man back line. Jeff Larentowicz dropped back to the back line and Julian Gressel slotted in at right fullback, with Kevin Kratz entering the game in the middle of the park. The full XI: Brad Guzan (GK), Anton Walkes (CB), Jeff Larentowicz (CB), Michael Parkhurst (CB), Chris McCann (LWB), Carlos Carmona (CM), Kevin Kratz (CM), Julian Gressel (RWB), Yamil Asad (LW), Josef Martinez (ST), Tito Villalba (RW).

After a tense stretch of pressure from both sides, it was goalkeeper Brad Guzan who stepped up for the first major moment of the match. A quick interchange of passes from the Toronto midfield set Jozy Altidore free behind the Atlanta defense, but Brad Guzan stepped up with a huge one-handed reaction save to keep his fellow U.S. international out of the back of the net.

Go ahead and get those @MLS Save of the Week votes in now 👀

— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) October 22, 2017

Atlanta pounced on the opportunity ten minutes later, and it came from the penalty spot. A cross form the right was swung into the middle of the box, and Yamil Asad jumped highest to meet it with his head. A Toronto defender raised hand blocked the goal-bound effort, and after video review confirmed the foul, the ref pointed to the spot. Asad was clinical from there, coolly slotting home the penalty to take the lead.

The intensity was high for the next half hour, with Atlanta fighting for a first-round bye and Toronto aiming for the record for most points in an MLS regular season. Toronto scored next right at the hour mark, with Jozy Altidore muscling off his defender to tap home the equalizer.

Miguel Almirón came on from there and added an instant spark in his return to the team. 13 minutes later, Atlanta United took the lead again and it was the Five Stripes’ lethal South American attack striking once again. Almirón received the ball in the middle and sprayed it out wide to Tito Villalba, who lashed in a lethal cross that Josef Martinez deflected clinically past the Toronto goalkeeper.

But this was the matchup of the two best offenses in MLS this year, and Toronto was ready to match Atlanta United’s attacking prowess with class of its own. After winning a free kick more than 25 yards from goal, Sebastian Giovinco hit an unstoppable shot off the underside of the crossbar to make it 2-2. Atlanta United fought until the very end, with some last-gasp defending the only thing standing between them and a win. A corner fell to Anton Walkes in the box, and his volley was saved heroically off the line, with Bobby Boswell’s follow-up effort getting blocked again with only the goalkeeper to beat.

87' | Knocking on the door! #ATLUTD 2-2

— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) October 22, 2017

The game finished 2-2, a battle of two Eastern Conference powerhouses that thrilled 71,874 fans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the second time this year Atlanta has set the MLS single-game attendance record. Combined with the other day’s results, the draw meant Atlanta United finished the regular season in fourth place in the Eastern Conference. That means the Five Stripes will host the Columbus Crew at home in the first-round single-elimination knockout round later this week. Limited tickets are still available, make sure you’ve reserved your spot here.

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