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Match Preview: Atlanta United at Toronto FC

After weeks off of league play, Atlanta United is looking to continue their hot streak or nine wins in their last 11 matches since the beginning o fMay. Atlanta United travels north of the border to face Toronto FC, looking for their first road win ever at the home of the 2017 MLS Cup Champions. The Five Stripes took the reverse fixture at Mercedes-Benz Stadium by a 2-0 score, but now it’s Toronto’s turn to host.

Make sure to tune in Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET on FOX Sports South. For all the details on how to follow the match, click here.

Atlanta United (8-5-2)

The rocky start Atlanta United experienced back in March is merely a memory. A red-hot May with six league wins has the Five Stripes right back in contention at the top of the Eastern Conference, just five points off the lead with two matches in hand. After back-to-back U.S. Open Cup wins, it’s back to league play with a hunger to keep up their form.

 

They’ll have to play this time without top scorer Josef Martinez, who just advanced to the knockout stages of the Copa America tournament on international duty with Venezuela. While Josef would be missed whenever he’s not in the lineup, Brandon Vazquez’s four goals in his past two Open Cup matches shows the kind of form that could translate well back up to MLS play. Frank de Boer told reporters this week that Barco will not travel after picking up a minor injury, but with talents like Pity Martinez, Julian Gressel, Justin Meram and Dion Pereira all rotating in to those attacking midfield positions the past few weeks, there’s plenty of firepower at De Boer’s disposal to get a road win this week.

They’ll line up in front of a full selection of defenders, with George Bello’s long-term injury the only issue facing the back line. Miles Robinson and Leandro González Pirez have formed perhaps the best center back partnership in the league this season, while Franco Escobar, Michael Parkhurst and Brek Shea have been as reliable as ever when called upon to lock down the wide areas of the field. They were able to keep Toronto FC’s attack out last time at Mercedes-Benz Stadium –– keeping a clean sheet on the road will be a crucial first step for a team looking to start their return to league play with a win.

Toronto FC (5-7-4)

Atlanta’s opponent on Wednesday is a Toronto FC side struggling for form right now in the Eastern Conference. The 2017 MLS Cup Champions are winless in their past eight matches, including a 3-0 loss to FC Dallas in their last time out. They will be missing key players that are out for the Gold Cup, including two Designated Players in Americans Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley as well as a key midfield cog in Canadian midfielder Jonathan Osorio.

That doesn’t mean they don’t have weapons that Atlanta United will have to keep an eye on up in Toronto. In Marky Delgado they have an experienced central midfielder with U.S. caps to his name, while another former U.S. international in Terrence Boyd is leading the front line. And Toronto still has one of the most exciting newcomers to the league this season in the attacking third, with newly-named MLS All-Star Alejandro Pozuelo pulling the strings from the creative midfield position. The Atlanta United midfield work rate was critical in their efforts to mark Pozuelo out of the match in Atlanta, and it will be a key matchup to watch again this week.

Rounding out the back line is a string of MLS veterans, with the usual setup being a three-man back line with Laurent Ciman, Drew Moor and Eriq Zavaleta. Meanwhile keep an eye out for 2017 MLS Best XI fullback Justin Morrow looking to constantly get forward into the attack down the left wing as well as former Orlando City defender Richie Laryea lining up on the opposite side. It’s an experienced group that has been solid at home in front of Quentin Westberg in the Toronto goal. But with 28 goals conceded this season –– compared to Atlanta United’s 11 –– there could be vulnerabilities in a Toronto back line that hasn’t quite gelled as planned so far this season. If the Five Stripes can exploit a weakness while staying compact in defense, they’ll have a good chance of bringing home a result from Toronto.

It’s a much-anticipated return to league action for the Five Stripes against an Eastern Conference opponent, so it’s one you won’t want to miss. Tune at 8:00 p.m. ET Tuesday on Fox Sports South –– or click here for all the ways to catch the action.

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