It all comes down to this. After 33 grueling weeks of ups and downs, road trips and home matches, the math for Atlanta United is simple: win the final match of the season and make history in two ways: by breaking the MLS all-time points record and securing the first trophy in team history by clinching the Supporters’ Shield. But a formidable opponent stands in their way in Toronto FC, so the Five Stripes will have to bring their best until the very last minute of the season on the road up north.
It’s the biggest match yet in Atlanta United’s history, so it’ll be one you won’t want to miss. Tune in on Fox Sports Southeast at 4:30 p.m. EST Sunday to catch every minute from BMO Field in Toronto. Click here for all the other ways to follow along with the match.
Atlanta United (21-6-6)
Atlanta United has equaled the all-time MLS points record, set a new mark for road wins and overall wins, and leads the league in scoring. Nearly any other year they would already be celebrating a Supporters’ Shield win. But with the Red Bulls nipping at their heels just one point back, there’s no room for error.
The first questions will be centered around the health of Tito Villalba and Miguel Almirón, who are both coming back from short-term injuries. But even if they can’t make it back for this match, the Five Stripes proved last week they can still win without those two key pieces. Darlington Nagbe and Julian Gressel are as good as anyone in this league at controlling possession and creating chances for their teammates in midfield, while Ezequiel Barco showed with his stellar pass to help open the scoring that he’s ready to add some creative magic to this midfield. And of course, there’s the soon-to-be-crowned Golden Boot leader Josef Martinez leading the line up top, eager to notch his 50th goal for the club.
And while the team may have a league-best attack, Tata Martino has plenty of options to lock up what has solidified into a top 5 MLS defense. You can count on captain Michael Parkhurst, Leandro González Pirez and goalkeeper Brad Guzan to be the foundation of the team with Eric Remedi and/or Jeff Larentowicz locking down the midfield. It could be Greg Garza, Chris McCann, or George Bello on the left, and after Franco Escobar’s stellar return to the starting lineup last week, it will be hard not to find a spot for him on the field as well. The different formations and personnel groups has been a major asset for Martino this year, and he’ll be confident in any of those players to step up like they have all year long.
Toronto FC (9-18-6)
If Atlanta United wants to break the all-time points record, they’ll have to do it against the team that just set it last season. Toronto’s follow-up season hasn’t gone according to plan, however, with their playoff hopes for this year already over. But it’s a team that Atlanta United have never beaten, so they’ll have to get over the hump against a Toronto side they’ve drawn with 2-2 on all three occasions.
The Northern powerhouses will be without some key players for the match. Spanish midfielder Víctor Vázquez and striker Jozy Altidore, two vital players in last year’s run, have been ruled out for the final match of the season to deal with lingering health issues. But they still have plenty of weapons, and none more lethal than Italian forward Sebastian Giovinco. Quick with his feet, skilled on the dribble, and equally adept at scoring and creating for others, Giovinco is one of the most dangerous players in the league and will be the primary threat for the Atlanta defense come Sunday. And the Five Stripes will have to avoid giving up cheap fouls, with the Italian the best free kick striker in league history on the opposing side.
Lining up behind him will be the captain, U.S. international Michael Bradley, who will have his team up and ready to defend their record. Newly-capped U.S. midfielder Marky Delgado and Canadian international Jonathan Osorio, who may be the breakout player for Toronto this year, will both try to pull the strings alongside Bradley in the center of the park. But there could be opportunities for Atlanta United to attack a defense that ranks in the bottom 5 in goals conceded in MLS this year. But don’t let their record fool you: this is a team with the weapons to beat anyone, and the red, black and gold will have to have full concentration to come out with a historic win.
With history & hardware on the line, this is a match you absolutely won’t want to miss. Make sure to click here for everything you need to know about how to tune in.