Atlanta’s Regular Season Home Finale Ends In 1-1 Draw With Toronto Eastern Conference MLS Luiz Araújo

It was the last regular season match at Mercedes-Benz Stadium for Atlanta United on Saturday, and the team finished its 2021 home campaign with a 1-1 draw against Toronto FC.

The match was the last of three consecutive at home for the club. In that stretch, the team captured five out of nine possible points and extended its home unbeaten streak to seven matches.

The point it gained on Saturday moved the club to 47 on the season and into fifth place at the time the match ended. Atlanta remains on track for a chance at a postseason berth.

A mistake by Toronto created Atlanta’s goal. In the 15th minute, Toronto defender Justin Morrow sent a pass back to goalkeeper Quentin Westberg that lacked pace. Westberg tried to handle, but Atlanta striker Luiz Araújo applied heavy pressure and stole the ball, using his speed to take advantage of a bumbling keeper. Araújo rolled the ball into a wide-open net to give Atlanta the 1-0 lead.

The goal was Araújo’s fourth of the season in just 13 matches played. He led the team with five chances created on the night.

Toronto equalized in the 88th minute. Forward Jordan Perruzza directed a one-touch shot in the center of the box off a header that striker Dom Dwyer sent across the box. The play initially started as a set piece.

It was the second time in the previous three matches that Atlanta gave up its lead in the final minutes. The tie with NYCFC on Oct. 20 happened in similar fashion.

“It’s a tough play, honestly,” defender Miles Robinson said. “But it’s a game of inches and he’s onside by a hair and it’s a tough play.”

All four members of “BAMM” made head coach Gonzalo Pineda’s starting lineup for the home finale. The group had several promising opportunities, including what was nearly a brilliant goal from midfielder Ezequiel Barco on a lofted ball he spun with the outside of his foot in the 56th minute. But Barco was called offside.

Araújo together with midfielder Marcelino Moreno exploited Toronto’s left back in the 33rd minute for one of Atlanta’s best shots of the night. Araújo outran Morrow and passed the ball to Moreno, whose well-timed shot went wide left of goal.

Striker Josef Martínez said after training on Friday that he wanted to get more chances, and he got close a few times throughout the match, starting right away in the second minute. A breakaway led to a shot on goal for Martínez, but Westberg saved it.

Martínez’s teammates found him inside the box with space for a couple near chances. First, when Moreno delivered a ball to the striker in the box. Then later in the 25th minute, Araújo found Martinez for a 1-v-1 in the box, but his touch wasn’t controlled well enough for the striker to get a good foot on the shot and his attempt missed.

Another golden moment arrived in the 51st on a cross from defender Brooks Lennon, but Martínez’s sliding strike sailed over the goal.

“It wasn’t a typical day for our forwards to miss so many chances,” Pineda said.

In the end, it's the lack of clinical finishing that troubled Pineda most about the team’s performance.

“When you miss so many chances, the opposition is going to have some momentum there because they feel the opportunity,” Pineda said. “So it’s about controlling those moments."

Goalkeeper Brad Guzan came up with seven saves, his second-highest total of the season. Robinson along with defenders Anton Walkes and Alan Franco led the back line.

Atlanta combined well, from the top line to the back, and finished with a passing accuracy of 87 percent. The ball went back-and-forth between Martínez and Barco for the goal that was called offside. Earlier, the two had a give-and-go that resulted in a foul on Barco and direct free kick for Atlanta.

Even the defenders were getting in on the combinations. A clean give-and-go between Lennon and Franco in the back third during the 23rd minute cleared the ball from danger and ignited the team’s transition attack.

As a team, Atlanta completed 588 total passes, compared to Toronto’s 423, and possessed 58 percent of the ball. Atlanta took 19 shots, but only four of those were on goal. Toronto had fewer shots (11) but was more accurate, with eight of those on goal.

“We missed some chances, which were costly,” Barco said.

With the draw, Atlanta completed the season series with Toronto FC with a 2-0-1 record. Atlanta won the previous two meetings 1-0 win on Aug. 18 and 2-0 on Oct. 16.

Between the two teams, Atlanta had more to play for tonight. The 5-Stripes had to get a win to keep their chance for top-4 spot in the Eastern Conference viable. Toronto FC entered Saturday riding a four-game winless streak and has already been eliminated from the playoffs.

With so much on the line, the outcome is bitter for Atlanta, especially when it led for most of the match.

"Overall the game plan worked, it’s just about not scoring the second goal,” Pineda said.

Atlanta United has just two matches remaining, against a surging New York Red Bulls and FC Cincinnati. Both are on the road, and it’ll be vital for Atlanta to come away with positive results.

"We all have to just look ourselves in the mirror tonight and understand how we can get better because we have to if we’re trying to make a playoff run,” Robinson said.