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Tosaint Ricketts’ late goal gives Toronto 2-2 draw with Atlanta United

Aug 4, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono (25) makes a save against Atlanta United midfielder Miguel Almiron (10) during the first half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

ATLANTA — Josef Martinez continued his goal-scoring tear for Atlanta United FC on Saturday, but the game did not end with him a hero this time.

After the 25-year-old Venezuelan striker scored his 25th and 26th goals of the season, Atlanta led Toronto FC 2-1 heading into the 90th minute. But a lapse in Atlanta’s defense allowed TFC’s speedy Tosaint Ricketts to slip past Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez to score the equalizing goal in stoppage time.

Atlanta couldn’t score again in the remaining three minutes of added time and settled for a 2-2 draw in front of an announced crowd of 45,191 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“It’s very difficult when you create chances like we did and then the last bit of the first half and the last bit of the second half they get those goals,” Atlanta midfielder Kevin Kratz said. “But when you play against good teams, the margin of error is so small. Other teams are playing good soccer, too, and they can create good chances, too. And players like (Sebastian Giovinco), they are there when they are needed to be there. It’s a rough one for us today.”

Tempers spilled over after the final whistle, and Toronto’s Chris Mavinga was given a postgame red card for hitting Gonzalez-Pirez in the face. Many Atlanta players were asked about the incident after the game, but none provided clarity as to what led to Mavinga’s outburst.

“The ball ended with (Miguel Almiron), I think. I’m not really sure,” Jeff Larentowicz said. “Just standard pushing. I grabbed Miguel just to get him out of there. I think Leandro came in behind me. I didn’t see what happened.”

 

Ricketts, who entered the match in the 81st minute, was the recipient of playmaking from Giovinco and Jonathan Osorio. Giovinco played the ball over to Osorio, who was sprinting into the box from the left, and he crossed the ball in front of Brad Guzan and Gonzalez-Pirez, allowing a sliding Ricketts to connect with it for a goal.

It was the third score of the season for Ricketts, a quick-footed 30-year-old Canadian.

With the draw, Toronto (6-11-5, 23 points) is still five points behind New England and Montreal for the final playoff spot. Atlanta United (14-4-6, 48 points) remained first in the Eastern Conference.

Atlanta took the lead in the 67th minute, thanks to Martinez’s head and a lob from Hector “Tito” Villalba.

Michael Parkhurst had the ball at the top of the Toronto penalty area. He played the ball to his right to Villalba, who then chipped it toward the goal from outside the box. Martinez located the cross and lightly connected with his head, changing the ball’s direction slightly and allowing it to bounce past Toronto keeper Alexander Bono.

It was Martinez’s seventh straight game with a goal, and with 26 goals in 2018, he is now one away from tying the MLS record for goals scored in a season — with 10 games remaining.

For Villalba, it was his seventh assist of the year. He led the Five Stripes in chances created Saturday with five. The Argentine midfielder was 80 percent accurate on his 45 passes.

“Josef is an incredible player, and we know that, as his teammates, if generate enough situations, he’s going to put one of them in,” Atlanta midfielder Eric Remedi said through a translator. “It’s just a matter of time that, if we keep giving him service, he’s going to convert.”

Atlanta had seven shots in the first 45 minutes of play, but couldn’t seem to put a good shot on goal. A through ball from Gonzalez-Pirez gave Almiron a one-on-one situation with Bono, but it proved to be a million-dollar buildup with a 10-cent finish. Almiron put the shot wide of the post. The Paraguayan midfielder has 105 shots this year, but just eight goals, and four of those came via penalty kicks.

Toronto had zero shots in the first 45 minutes, but were opportunistic and created a chance during one minute of stoppage time at the end of the first half.

Trying to corral a ball at the top of the Atlanta United penalty box, Gonzalez-Pirez was stripped of possession by Jozy Altidore. While Atlanta’s defense tried to recover, Altidore quickly played the ball to Auro on the right wing, who then crossed the ball to Giovinco. Left unmarked by Parkhurst, Giovinco slotted the ball past Guzan from close range.

It was the seventh goal of the year for the 31-year-old Italian forward, who leads all of MLS in attempted shots with 111. He has scored in three straight games.

“I don’t think we lost our concentration. Unfortunately, they just scored two goals in the last few minutes (of each half). That’s a strength of theirs,” Remedi said. “And the players that they have, they’re very talented players. They were able to do a good job of getting outside on the wings and sending the balls into the middle.”

In the 51st minute, the Five Stripes got their first goal of the match when Martinez was awarded a penalty kick after Bono slapped his leg, bringing him down in the box.

Martinez skipped to his left, chopped his feet, charged the ball and buried it in the low left corner for his sixth penalty score of the season. Bono was given a yellow card for the play.

Romario Williams relieved Martinez late in the game, coming on in the 79th minute. Kratz, who made his second start of the season, was subbed off in the 83rd minute for Miles Robinson. Brandon Vazquez entered for Villalba in the 89th minute.

Saturday’s match marked the first time since Atlanta’s 2-1 win over Chicago May 5 that it used a 3-5-2 formation. It was necessary because of Atlanta’s current lack of depth at fullback. Greg Garza, Sal Zizzo and Mikey Ambrose were out with injuries, and Franco Escobar was suspended due to yellow card accumulation.

Typically a defensive midfielder, Larentowicz played right centerback for Atlanta for the first time this season.

“It was fine. I think that, defensively, it was pretty normal. Offensively, it took a bit of time to combine with (Villalba and Julian Gressel). I think, all in all, it went alright,” Larentowicz said.

The Five Stripes have 15 days off before their next match, a home clash with the Columbus Crew.

Game notes:

  • Saturday’s match marked the first time that George Bello, an Atlanta Homegrown, was featured in the club’s 18-man game-day roster. He did not come off the bench.
  • Eric Remdi, Jeff Larentowicz, Bono and Giovinco were all given yellow cards in the match.
  • In training Friday, Atlanta manager Gerardo Martino gave a brief update about Darlington Nagbe’s adductor injury and recovery, saying, “Initially it was diagnosed as a long-term injury. I don’t know his exact timetable. I don’t want to put a time on it. But we have the expectation that he’ll be back for the final stretch of the regular season.”

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