Tools to the Match: How 5-Stripes begin road trip with victory north of the border

Atlanta United heads north of the border this weekend to take on Toronto FC in the first of three consecutive road matches. The 5-Stripes are coming off a confident performance in the 2-0 victory at home against Inter Miami last weekend. Toronto lost by the same score line at New York Red Bulls in the first competitive match since the June international break. The victory lifted Atlanta into ninth place in the Eastern Conference standings, just one point below the playoff line. Toronto enters this weekend sitting in 12th place, four points behind Atlanta. Let’s take a look at the Tools to the Match presented by The Home Depot against Toronto FC.

Start Grinding Out Results on the Road

The next three MLS league matches for Atlanta United will all be on the road at historically difficult places to play for the 5-Stripes. Atlanta and Toronto FC have played several meaningful matches over the years. While the all-time series sits at 4-3-4 (W-L-T) in favor of Toronto, only one of the three victories for the 5-Stripes have come at BMO Field. In 2018, Atlanta traveled to Toronto on Decision Day looking to secure its first Supporters’ Shield but fell 4-1. The following season, the 5-Stripes and Toronto played a back-and-forth classic that looked destined to finish in a 3-3 draw, before Atlanta missed a penalty deep into stoppage time.

Last season, Luiz Araújo and Marcelino Moreno scored first and second half stoppage time goals to lift Atlanta to the win. Araújo is coming off a strong performance last weekend with a goal and an assist against Miami. Josef Martínez returned to the starting lineup by scoring a goal and tallying an assist of his own. One of the keys will be for the attack to continue to show that creativity and finishing touch as Atlanta looks to keep that momentum with them to pick up three valuable road points.

Funnel Pozuelo and Jimenez into heart of Atlanta’s defense

Toronto FC is entering a new era in 2022. Bob Bradley joined the team as head coach prior to the season. The team is still looking for that consistency that was a hallmark of Bradley’s LAFC teams over the past couple of seasons. Toronto does feature some familiar players that Atlanta’s backline and midfield will need to control. Former league MVP Alejandro Pozuelo is one of those playmakers that can change any match. He has four goals and four assists in 2022. Several of his assists have gone to Jesus Jimenez, Toronto’s new No. 9 up top. The Spanish forward, who joined before the season from the Polish first division has made an instant impact with seven goals, all from inside the box, and three assists in 15 matches.

Both players scored in Toronto’s 4-0 win in midweek against CF Montreal to advance to the 2022 Canadian Championship final. Ayo Akinola rounded out the scoring with a brace as Toronto will play Vancouver for the Voyagers Cup and a Concacaf Champions League berth.

Atlanta’s defense, which is coming off a clean sheet last weekend, will need to make sure that Toronto doesn’t utilize the flanks and becomes one dimensional through the middle. George Campbell, Alan Franco and Franco Ibarra formed a formidable trio in the central part of the pitch last time out and will look to do the same on Saturday.

Utilize the Stud Finder

The final tool to success for Atlanta United is simple. Find your studs. It’s no secret that when players like Martínez, Araújo and Moreno are playing together and on a high level, opposing teams are going to have a difficult time containing all of them. Add in Ronaldo Cisneros’ willingness to make runs off the ball and Atlanta’s attack has looked very dynamic in the last two outings. Atlanta leads all of MLS with 26.07 shot creating actions per 90 mins. They are also a team that loves playing and scoring in transition, as evidenced by the second goal last week against Miami. If Atlanta can capitalize on transition moments, and find their studs up top, they will begin this tough stretch with three points.

Fans can tune in to the match vs. Toronto FC locally on Bally Sports Southeast with kickoff set for 7:30pm ET. Click here to learn all the ways to watch, listen and live stream Saturday's match.