TFC fall to Atlanta United
Atlanta United continued their resurgence on Wednesday evening at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. As Héctor Villalba and Julian Gressel both scored in the 2-0 win over Toronto FC.
After a winless start in their first four Major League Soccer games of 2019, Atlanta secured their fourth victory in five games and have now won three in a row. All of these games have also came with a clean sheet. TFC have now lost two of their last three.
“It starts with team spirit and belief,” manager Frank de Boer said in his post-game press conference. “Five to six weeks ago, we had a meeting together to really get together and understand each other on both sides [players and coaches]. From there on, we made very good progress.
“We can improve, we have to improve,” de Boer continued. “It’s a big step forward against a very good team, a good opponent.”
The game opened in a frenzy. In the fifth minute, Leandro González-Pírez made a 60-yard recovery run, before producing a wonderful sliding tackle in Atlanta’s penalty area on Ayo Akinola to prevent a one-on-one opportunity with Brad Guzan. Just four minutes later, Miles Robinson lunged into break-up a dangerous cut-back pass seven yards from his own goal.
The action continued, when a 15th-minute corner for Atlanta resulted in blocked shots from Gressel and Josef Martínez. Before, Franco Escobar then played a dangerous cross into the TFC box; forcing a desperate headed clearance.
However, Atlanta made their breakthrough in the 17th minute. Gressel suffered a foul 20 yards from goal; in prime free-kick territory for Gonzalo Martínez. The Argentine curled his left-footed curling shot around TFC’s wall and forced Alex Bono into a diving save. However, Josef Martínez pounced on the rebound near the byline and pinged a hard, low pass across the front of the goal. Villalba stood unopposed and deflected the ball into the net.
Meanwhile, Toronto grew into the game as it went on, and they took control soon after Atlanta’s opening goal. They kept possession and moved the Five Stripes defenders around. A poor pass from Brad Guzan found United States international Michael Bradley in the 26th minute, but Bradley’s first-time shot on the open goal went wide; this would be the closest that the travelling side would get in the match. The fans at the Benz were still booing Bradley on his every touch because of the USA’s World Cup qualifying disaster in 2017.
However, Atlanta regained a handle on the proceedings in the final ten minutes of the first half and did not let go.
Gressel doubled the lead in the 67th minute. Villalba dribbled through the space towards TFC’s back-line and played a simple pass to Josef Martínez at the top of the penalty area. Josef Martínez then laid off to Gressel on the right, and the German cut inside and fired with his left foot effort into the net from 12 yards out. The strike took a small deflection off substitute fullback Justin Morrow and beat Bono at the near post.
Meanwhile, the Five Stripes had two further goals disallowed for offside.