Coming off three wins in their last four matches, Atlanta United (3-3-2) is looking back to their best after their slow start to the season. Now they will be looking to take advantage of their games in hand to continue their climb up the Eastern Conference standings, and that all starts with perhaps their biggest challenge yet: a midweek matchup against one of the hottest teams in the league in Toronto FC (5-2-1). With talent all over the pitch on both sides of the ball, this Eastern Conference matchup will be one no MLS fan will want to miss.
Ahead of the clash of the last two MLS Cup Champions, we broke down the Tools to the Match, presented by The Home Depot.
Atlanta United fans have unfavorable memories of a #10 in Red in former Toronto FC forward Sebastian Giovinco, who gave MLS defenders fits in his time in the league. While the Atomic Ant may be gone, there’s a new #10 in town, and he’s been one of the most influential players in the league so far this year. Spanish midfielder Alejandro Pozuelo has had an electric start to the season with four goals and six assists in just six matches so far for the Canadian powerhouse. He’s a prototypical #10, playing in a free role behind the striker adding flair to Toronto’s solid defensive foundation. Toronto’s midfield and defense will be looking to feed him the ball early and often to let his creative spark produce a piece of magic in the final third. Limiting his opportunities to receive the ball, and closing him down quickly when he does will be critical to Atlanta United’s success on Wednesday.
Break up the Middle
Toronto FC has talent in every phase, but where they stand out the most is in the middle of the park. The team’s central midfield is as good as anyone’s in the league, and in Michael Bradley, Jonathan Osorio and Marky Delgado they have a unit that has formed a bond and chemistry that can only be created through years of playing together. That foundation is the key to Toronto’s success, and disrupting that goes a long way toward throwing off their gameplan. Atlanta United will have to be energetic in midfield to break up their passing play, and their movement off the ball in attack will be key to dragging Toronto’s midfield out of position. They are at their best when they are compact and strong –– if Atlanta United can spread them out and exploit that space created in the middle, they can create those dangerous driving runs up the middle of the field that will put Toronto’s defense on their heels and lead to scoring chances.
Find the Feet of #7
It sounds crazy to say a striker with seven goals in twelve matches this year was struggling with his confidence, but it’s fair to say Josef Martinez hadn’t been as clinical as we’ve seen in the past in front of goal so far this season. But what a difference a goal makes. After scoring the opener in Kansas City over the weekend, we saw a vintage Josef Martinez finish to cap off the 3-0 win: an unstoppable dagger to top off a trademark Atlanta United counter attack that put the league on notice. Josef looked back in his groove over the weekend, and he will be eager to build on his four goals in four matches against Toronto FC in his career. If the Five Stripes can continue to find their lethal #7 in attacking positions, Josef Martinez looks primed and ready to turn back into the goalscoring machine he’s been throughout his MLS career. And if they can capitalize on a chance early, it will put Toronto on their heels, make them come out of their defensive shell, and turn Mercedes-Benz Stadium into the overwhelming atmosphere it’s been for opposing teams since the day it opened.
The match is set to kick off Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. ET from Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. You can watch the match on Fox Sports Southeast, stream it on Fox Sports GO or listen in on 92.9 The Game or in Spanish at La Mejor Atlanta. For more details on how to follow along from home, click here.