Oct 28, 2018; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto FC forward Sebastian Giovinco (10) controls the ball against the Atlanta United FC during the first half at BMO Field. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Entering Decision Day, Atlanta United FC was within reach of making a mark on Major League Soccer’s record books.
Atlanta was holding the Sharpie. The page was open. All it had to do was take the cap off and write.
The Five Stripes entered BMO Field with 69 points, and a win or a draw against Toronto FC would’ve given Atlanta the Supporters’ Shield, the No. 1 overall seed in the playoffs and the MLS single-season record for points scored.
If Atlanta’s sports teams are in fact cursed — or haunted or whatever — the ghosts were alive, well and active Sunday in Toronto, making things difficult for Gerardo “Tata” Martino’s side.
There will be no Supporters’ Shield celebration.
Toronto, a team with nothing to play for but pride, delivered a 4-1 defeat to an Atlanta United side that looked sloppy from start to finish in front of an announced crowd of 23,895 fans on a chilly day in Canada. The loss, combined with the 1-0 win over Orlando City SC for the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena, knocked the Five Stripes off their perch at the top of the table in the Eastern Conference.
“I thought we played poorly tonight,” Martino said through a translator on the Fox Sports Southeast broadcast. “We just have to put an end to the regular season and look forward to the playoffs.”
The Five Stripes fell in a 1-0 hole in the ninth minute when Toronto forward Lucas Janson stepped in front of an errant pass from Atlanta defender Jeff Larentowicz and fired a right-footed shot from the top of the box. The ball deflected off Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez and bounced toward the far post, out of reach for goalkeeper Brad Guzan.
Janson also scored Toronto’s third in the 83rd minute, capitalizing off a build up from Sebastian Giovinco and Michael Bradley. Janson’s goals were the 24-year-old Argentine’s third and fourth of the season after joining Toronto in August on loan from Tigre.
Toronto (10-18-6) added its second goal in the 21st minute when Marky Delgado took advantage of open space and a superb feed from Jonathan Osorio. With the ball at his feet just outside the box, Osorio drew in five Atlanta defenders and danced on the ball before passing it off to Delgado, who had yards of unmarked territory. Delgado, a 23-year-old midfielder from California, took one touch and rifled a shot past Guzan.
Down 2-0, Atlanta (21-7-6) finally got on the board in the 77th minute when Josef Martinez, the winner of the MLS Golden Boot, scored his 31st goal of the season by connecting on a penalty kick. The foul was drawn by Darlington Nagbe, who fell in the box after receiving contact from Ashtone Morgan. Martinez hopped to his left, chopped his feet, sprinted towards the ball, leaped into the air, landed with his left foot and delivered a blast into the goal with his right foot.
Atlanta scored earlier in the match, too, but the goal from Julian Gressel was disallowed because Martinez was ruled offside. Martinez received a pass from Hector “Tito” Villalba and carried the ball into the box in the 62nd minute. Martinez’s shot was deflected and Gressel kicked the rebound into the net, but that’s when the flag went up.
Gressel, who has four goals and 14 assists this season, was furious, waving his arms and yelling at the referee. Martinez was called offside three times Sunday.
The German winger had another chance to score in the 70th minute, but Gressel’s hard shot from close range bounced off the crossbar. Martinez and Gressel combined for eight shots, but just two landed on target.
Toronto put the final nail in Atlanta’s coffin in the 88th minute, when Sebastian Giovinco added another goal for good measure, sliding in and threading a ball through a narrow window between Guzan and the near post. It was the 13th goal of the season for the Italian forward.
Atlanta lost by three goals despite controlling 57 percent of the possession. The Five Stripes also won 12 tackles and three corner kicks.
The Five Stripes enter the playoffs as the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed and will find out their first postseason opponent this week with the Knockout Round scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday.
- Greg Garza subbed on for Chris McCann in the 28th It marked the first time since May 20 that Garza, a 27-year-old American left back, had appeared in a match for Atlanta United. Garza injured his right shoulder in that match and had surgery just days later. He was a 2017 MLS All-Star and has three goals and eight assists in 37 appearances with the Five Stripes over two seasons.
- Atlanta homegrown George Bello missed the 18-man game-day roster for this match with an injury. It’s unclear what that injury is, but a club spokesperson told Pro Soccer USA that the 16-year-old is “day-to-day.” During the broadcast, Fox Sports South play-by-play man Kevin Egan said that Bello “picked up a knock in training” last week. Bello has played in three games for Atlanta since Sept. 2, starting twice and scoring once.