Atlanta United FC 1 – 2 Toronto FC

Reining MLS Champions, and #2 seed in the MLS Eastern Conference Atlanta United FC hosted #4 Toronto FC on Wednesday night for the Eastern Conference Championships. 

Wednesday’s Eastern Conference Final reminded a bit of Tuesday’s battle between LAFC and Seattle Sounders from the West.  The higher-seeded home team takes the lead early on, the underdog visitors take some time to regroup, but then claw back and win the game. 

Since its first season in the MLS in 2017, Atlanta has reached the MLS playoffs for all three seasons.  In its first season in the MLS, the team was eliminated from the playoffs in its previous forms in the Knockout Round.  And in 2018 won the MLS Cup.

Toronto FC has been in the MLS since 2007, however its playoff history isn’t much longer than Atlanta’s.  In 2015 Toronto was eliminated in the Knock Out round, but since reached the MLS Cup Finals three times in the past four years.  In 2016 the team finished as Runner-up, won the Cup and became MLS Champions in 2017, did not qualify for the playoffs in 2018, and will now be facing Seattle Sounders in the finals again this year.

Atlanta United’s Pity Martinez got the party started by orchestrating power-run counter attack from midfield, but when getting to the 12 yard area found himself crowded by Toronto defense and goalkeeper Quentin Westberg.  Martinez unselfishly passed a cross to Julian Gressel who was unmarked on the right side of box, for Gressel to easily tap in and score (4’).

Pity Martinez kept on producing magic, and a few minutes later was brought down in the box by Toronto’s Michael Bradley to draw a penalty (8’).  However Westberg came to the rescue and blocked Joseph Martinez’s kick.

Toronto then kept building on the momentum, and minutes later Nicolas Benezet equalled by curling a beautiful ball from outside the 18 across to the right corner of Atlanta’s net (14’).

After an exciting first quarter of an hour, both sides dug in to what became more of a defensive game.  Until later in the second half when Toronto’s substitute Nick DeLeon shook off Atlanta defenders and send a powerful shot from the arc, to score and send Toronto to the 2019 MLS Cup Finals (78).

In a funny way, Toronto FC and Seattle Sounders will be facing each other in the MLS Cup Finals three times in the past four years, sharing between them the two previous championship wins (Seattle and Toronto, in 2016 and 2017 respectively).

Toronto FC will travel to CenturyLink Field in Seattle to meet the Seattle Sounders in the 2019 MLS Audi Cup Finals on Sunday, November 10th.