Atlanta United played their first conference opponent of the season on Saturday with a matchup against Toronto FC at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The two Eastern Conference clubs went head-to-head in the second half, both scoring goals from long distance. Giorgos Giakoumakis made his club debut for Atlanta United, entering as a sub in the 59th minute, and nearly scored the game-winner, but the goal was called back due to offsides. The result of the first of two meetings between the sides in the regular season was a 1-1 draw.
First half - Miguel Berry in Atlanta United's starting XI, Atlanta United controls possession
Atlanta United head coach Gonzalo Pineda went with the same starting XI he did last week against San Jose except for one change. Miguel Berry started up top at striker, marking his first start with the club since being acquired in a trade with D.C. United in February. Greek striker Giorgos Giakoumakis started on the bench and was available for the first time as a member of Atlanta United after his visa was approved this week.
It was in fact Berry who had the first shot of the match in the sixth minute. Toronto FC gave the ball away in their own half, which was then controlled by Atlanta United's Caleb Wiley. The Homegrown carried the ball up the field, drawing the defense toward him, then dished a pass to Berry. The striker from Barcelona struck a firm ball at an angle on the left side of the box that went into the side netting.
Atlanta United had some success in their attack finding space on the left side. After a smooth give-and-go between Wiley and Andrew Gutman on the left, Gutman crossed the ball into the center of the box around the 25-minute mark. Berry touched it to Luiz Araújo in front of goal, but it was too congested with both Toronto and Atlanta players for a quality shot. A couple of minutes later, Gutman got off a shot from just outside the 18-yard box that got dangerously close but eventually missed the upper left corner.
Reigning MLS Player of the Matchday Thiago Almada created a golden moment for the home side in the 33rd minute. Atlanta moved the ball around in their attacking third, and it eventually found Almada in the center of the pitch. The World Cup winner dribbled past some Toronto defenders and slipped a through ball to Brooks Lennon making a run inside the box. Lennon reached the pass and took a shot, but Toronto FC goalkeeper Sean Johnson blocked it.
Last time Toronto FC played against Atlanta United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Juanjo Purata scored a hat trick, all on headers. The defender from Mexico nearly scored that way again tonight right before the halftime break. On a corner kick from Lennon, Purata was left unmarked on the far post and got a head on the ball, but the header sailed just high of the goal.
Second half - Matheus Rossetto's first career MLS goal equalizes the match, Giorgos Giakoumakis makes his club debut
In the 50th minute, Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan made his biggest play on the night up until that point. Toronto switched the ball in their attacking third and forward Federico Bernardeschi received a long cross at close range. The Italian international was anticipating the pass on the far post and touched the ball toward goal for a shot. Atlanta's big, bald wall reacted quickly and made a huge stop to keep the visitors off the board.
However, Guzan couldn't stop Bernardeschi's next attempt. The forward received a long pass and carried it up the pitch without much pressure. He squared up a shot with his left foot that was driven low into the right corner, which put Toronto FC ahead 1-0 in the 52nd minute. Michael Bradley was credited with the assist.
In the 59th minute, Pineda made his first substitutions of the match. Derrick Etienne Jr. and Giorgos Giakoumakis entered the match for Wiley and Berry. The moment marked the club debut for Giakoumakis. The Greek striker was greeted with thunderous applause from the 17s.
Atlanta United scored the equalizer in the 60th minute. Almada found Matheus Rossetto at the top of the 18-yard box and the midfielder cracked a shot from long range. The strike richocheted off two players and flew into the upper left corner to even the match 1-1. The finish was Rossetto's first career MLS goal. Almada and Etienne Jr. were credited with assists.
The 5-Stripes had a goal taken away around the 77-minute mark. Almada, skillfully evading several Toronto defenders with the dribble, lifted a cross to the far side. Purata was there waiting and headed down a shot toward goal. Johnson blocked the shot but Giakoumakis finished off the rebound. The goal was void, however, because the initial shot was ruled offside and confirmed by VAR.
In the 90th minute, Amar Sejdić entered the match for Rossetto.
Atlanta United supporters had last week's late-game heroics in mind when tonight's match went into second-half stoppage time. However, the home team couldn't find the game-winner this time around and the result of the match was a 1-1 draw. Atlanta United remains unbeaten on the season and extends their home unbeaten streak against Toronto FC in the regular season to seven.
Up next - Atlanta United on the road to face regional rival
Next week, the 5-Stripes are on the road for the first time in 2023, although it isn't a long trip. Atlanta United faces the first of their slate of rivalry matches with a visit to Charlotte on Saturday, March 11. It's an early kickoff (noon) between Atlanta United and Charlotte FC so be sure to subscribe to MLS Season Pass on Apple TV to catch all the action.
Match Highlights: Atlanta United 1-1 Toronto FC | March 4, 2023