And then there were four. Atlanta United have made it to the Eastern Conference Final once again, and have earned the right to play in front of their home fans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Toronto FC is the team standing between the Five Stripes and a second-straight appearance in MLS Cup, so Atlanta United will be hungry to take care of business in their home fortress.
Ahead of the Conference Final matchup, we broke down the Tools to the Match, presented by The Home Depot:
Atlanta United has split the spoils from the 2017 MLS Cup Champions this year, with each team winning their home match in the regular season in 2019. One of the biggest factors was the influence of Alejandro Pozuelo, the Spanish playmaker that has added a spark to Toronto’s attack this year. At Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the team was able to keep him largely quiet in a clean sheet victory –– but Pozuelo scored a brace in their 3-2 win in Toronto. If the Five Stripes can limit his time on the ball, and thus his influence on the game, it will go a long way toward shutting down one of the most vital cogs in their attack.
Establish the Home Fortress
Atlanta United’s attack gets deserved headlines, but Atlanta United’s postseason success the past two seasons has been defined by a defense that turns Mercedes-Benz Stadium into a fortress for visiting opponents. The Five Stripes have now hosted six MLS Cup Playoff games and have only conceded one goal in those matches combined. Brad Guzan’s six postseason clean sheets since joining MLS in 2017 are two more than any other goalkeeper in the league in that time. Atlanta United players have re-emphasized the need to win the mental battle, to keep that winning mentality to help push them past their opponents. If they can stay strong at home with another clean sheet, they can set the stage for a second-straight trip to MLS Cup.
Lock down the Flank
The play of what is now fondly referred to as “Playoff Franco” by the 17s has been a game-changing element yet again this year. Escobar is second only to Josef Martinez in playoff goals in Atlanta United’s history, and his energy made him seemingly omnipresent in the play against the Union last round. His influence is drawing the attention of defenders, and taking advantage of that extra space perfectly has been Julian Gressel, who is red hot in the home stretch of the season. Gressel added another goal and an assist last week, and teamed up with Escobar perfectly to lock down that side of the field all match. If Atlanta United can use the in-form partnership again, it could cause problems for Toronto’s back line.
Every moment is crucial for Atlanta United as they fight for their place in MLS Cup. Make sure you’re there to witness every moment as they try to retain their throne as MLS Cup champions. Click here to reserve your ticket, or if you can’t make the trip, click here for all the ways to tune in from home.