Toronto FC did the unthinkable and beat Atlanta United 2-1 in Atlanta to punch their ticket to the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Final. The 44,055 in attendance made for a solid Wednesday Night playoff battle that saw Atlanta taking control early but eventually falling due to missed chances. Julian Gressel, whose been the talk of the town due to contract discussions, opened up the scoring. But a missed penalty chance by Josef Martinez and two unanswered goals from Toronto are what ultimately sealed the affair.
Atlanta United wasted no time scoring and establishing their offensive threat. In the 4′ minute, Pity Martinez was 1 v 1 with the keeper. He held up just enough for Julian Gressel to catch up, then sent a low cross in front of goal to the winger for the easy tap-in goal.
In the 8′ minute, Pity Martinez was clearly brought down in the box and after a quick VAR check, it was confirmed a penalty and Michael Bradley was issued a yellow card for the foul. The King of Atlanta Josef Martinez stepped up to the spot but Toronto’s goalkeeper Quentin Westberg guessed right and parried the ball away.
That mistake would quickly come back to bite them as Toronto’s Nicolas Benezet would make his way into the box and send a finesse shot to the outside corner past Brad Guzan.
By the second half, the match started to get a little chippy and neither team was shying away from fouls.
In the 58′ minute, Atlanta United had a solid chance at taking the lead when Josef Martinez was streaking towards goal but fired his shot into the side netting.
The fouls kept coming from Toronto as both Jonathan Osorio and Nick DeLeon earned yellow cards for match-saving fouls. Every time the five stripes found an opportunity on a counter, Toronto would halt their attack with a foul.
Toronto would finally break the deadlock with a long-range effort from Nick DeLeon. After Toronto worked their way into Atlanta’s defensive third, the Arizonian spun his defender at the top of the box and fired a rocket past Brad Guzan.
DeLeon’s howler from the 18 would the nail in the coffin. Toronto stole the match from Atlanta in their house and in the end, the five stripes just couldn’t finish. Above all else, that missed penalty by Martinez will haunt them all offseason.
“We weren’t clinical enough,” said captain Michael Parkhurst after playing the final match of his career. “It was frustrating (not being able to finish) for sure especially after the great start we had. We had a couple chances early, scored a great goal, missed a penalty, then they get a goal from nothing. But from there we still continued to play well, we just weren’t quite sharp enough in the final third. But overall I’m proud of the performance from the guys, they played well.”
One of the key moments in the match happened when Atlanta’s Darlington Nagbe was fouled by Toronto’s Michael Bradley. The referee issued Bradley a yellow card, which came as a shock to everyone, including Parkhurst. “Was it a red? Yeah, it was a red. From my view, it was an upper-body foul.” We would late find out post-match that both Josef Martinez and Florentin Pogba were playing with thigh injuries.
After winning the MLS Cup title in 2018, it’s still an admirable feat to fight for the Eastern Conference crown the year after. In most sports, once a team wins a championship they won’t reach a final again for a few years, if ever again. Atlanta United managed to come within one win of hosting the final for the second year in a row, in just their third season.
Toronto FC will face Seattle Sounders in the final on November 10, 2019, in Seattle, WA. We’ll have updates soon on any roster changes and other team announcements.
Photo: Courtesy of ATL UTD