Cover photo courtesy of Atlanta United FC
Atlanta United’s fifth game of the season and the second game of a four game road stretch pits them against the MLS Cup runners-up Toronto FC. Both teams are coming off a 0-0 draw, Toronto’s coming against Sporting Kansas City while Atlanta’s draw came against the Seattle Sounders. Both teams will be looking to get an early season win with being a little over a week withdrawn from the international break.
Toronto FC Preview
Courtesy of Fox Sports
This was Toronto’s starting lineup for last week’s game. Toronto is known for their 3-5-2 formation as they are the only MLS team who run it on a consistent basis. What this formation tries to do is overwhelm the opposing team’s midfield and utilize speedy wingers to play a key role in both the attack and the defense. This formation however, relies heavily on these outside midfielders to get back quickly to defend. When this does not happen, it leaves Toronto open to attacks down the wings and crosses into the box. To make up for an outmanned backline, it is up to Toronto’s central midfielders to try and stop the opposing team from reaching the backline. In the case of Toronto, this job is done by US international Michael Bradley. In order for Toronto to limit Atlanta’s high powered attack, Bradley must intercept the ball before it reaches the defense while at the same time trying to cut off passing angles and organize the rest of the midfielders.
Besides Michael Bradley, the star player for Toronto FC is Sebastian Giovinco. Giovinco is widely considered the best player in the entire MLS. Even though Giovinco is listed as a forward, he consistently drops back into the midfield to get the ball and distribute. So it might be easier to think of him as an attacking midfielder in the way that he plays. Another key player to keep an eye on is Jozy Altidore. Jozy did not start last week after coming off international play which may signify a slight injury. However, expect him to be back for the game this weekend. Jozy might pose a particular problem for Atlanta’s defense. Jozy is known for being strong and is a 6 foot 1, big body forward. He might be able to muscle around Atlanta United’s central defenders which could leave space for players like Giovinco to play off of. All of Atlanta’s backline must stay organized and well positioned to make up for the lack of size when coming up against Altidore.
Atlanta will be coming into this game feeling confident after stealing a point away from home against the reigning MLS champions, the Seattle Sounders. Now they must play last year’s second place team, Toronto FC, away from home.
Courtesy of Atlanta United FC
This was Atlanta’s starting lineup last week against Seattle. Due to the injury of their main goalscorer Josef Martinez, head coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino decided to switch Hector Villalba over to stricker instead of bringing in the backup striker Kenwyne Jones. This could have been because Jones had recently returned from international break and needed rest, however it could also be because Martino feels that Jones does not fit his system. Also out of the starting lineup were star midfielders Carlos Carmona and Miguel Almiron. To replace them, Martino brought in Chris McCann and Jeff Larentowitcz. These two changes made the lineup more defensive which could explain why Atlanta had trouble connecting passes and generating chances against Seattle. Expect Almiron and Carmona to slot into the midfield. This will give the team much more of the attacking minded soccer that Atlanta United fans have come to expect from the team.
The question then becomes what to do at striker. While Villalba did a serviceable job in replacement of Josef Martinez, it was clear that he feels more comfortable in his normal starting position out on the wings. This makes it more likely for Kenwyne Jones to start up top. It will also mean that the lineup will be more similar to the ones we’ve seen in the games before with Kenwyne being the only replacement and everyone else playing in their desired positions. As mentioned before in the Toronto preview, a lot of attacking play in this game is going to come from the wings and then crosses into the box. Having a big strong forward like Kenwyne Jones fits well into this strategy.
Overall, this matchup has all the tools to be a open, fast paced, high scoring game. With both teams strengths in their attacking players this is a must watch game for anyone!
Score prediction: 2-2 draw