Tools to the Match: How ATL UTD can return to league play with a win

The long wait for a return to league play is over, with Atlanta United (8-5-2) hitting the road to take on Eastern Conference foe Toronto FC (5-7-4). A red-hot May has Atlanta United just five points off the lead for the Eastern Conference with two matches in hand. They will be hoping to recapture that form out of the break to make it ten wins out of their last twelve in all competitions.

Ahead of the Eastern Conference matchup, we broke down the Tools to the Match, presented by The Home Depot:

Protect Against Pozuelo

Toronto FC are missing key players due to international competition, in particular Michael Bradley and Jonathan Osorio in the midfield and Jozy Altidore leading the front line. But a key part of the attacking midfield is expected to be present, with newly-named MLS All-Star Alejandro Pozuelo expected to be available for selection. He’s a tricky, creative #10 –– not as explosive but ready to exploit even an inch of space in the center of the field, constantly looking to break the lines with forward passes whenever he gets the ball. Atlanta United thrived in the reverse fixture against Toronto earlier this year because they were able to limit his time in possession. Doing so again would go a long way toward shutting down the Toronto attack.

Exploit the space

Michael Bradley’s presence in the middle of the field has been a big part of Toronto FC’s success in recent seasons. His tactical awareness to break up play and his leadership abilities to keep his teammates organized will be badly missed as he spends time with the U.S. Men’s National Team. While Toronto has capable replacements, his absence leaves a hole in their midfield that Atlanta United has to be ready to exploit. The likes of Pity Martinez and Darlington Nagbe will be crucial here in the middle, taking advantage of the gaps that Bradley’s absence will leave in the center. If they can, it will add crucial attacking momentum to get the Toronto defense back on their heels.

Get the First Goal

Toronto FC has talented players in the back line, but they haven’t quite been able to put it together as a unit with 28 goals conceded so far this year putting them near the bottom of the Eastern Conference in goals allowed. If Toronto scores first, they can sit back in defense and let their home crowd carry them toward a result. But if Atlanta United can find a weakness and get on the board first, it will make Toronto come out of a defensive posture and open up more spaces in behind. Clean sheets are always vital on the road –– but if the Five Stripes can put the pressure on early, it will make it a much easier battle the rest of the match.

Follow Along:

The match is set to kick off Wednesday at 8:00 p.m. ET from BMO Field in Toronto. You can watch the match on Fox Sports South, 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.