Toronto FC: Scouting the opponent – Atlanta United FC

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MARCH 12: Atlanta United FC celebrate a goal by Jacob Peterson
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MARCH 12: Atlanta United FC celebrate a goal by Jacob Peterson /

The most exciting MLS fixture of the season is dawning upon us. Toronto FC look to smash the record for most points in a season, but a daunting Atlanta United team stands in their way.

Atlanta have earned their respect in just one season of MLS play, something many new clubs can’t say. (Editor’s note: Think about Toronto FC in their first season!) At the moment, United sit in fourth place in the East, with 54 points. To put that into comparison, new counterparts Minnesota United FC sit in ninth place in the Western Conference, with 36 points.

To start off what has been a successful year for Atlanta, they traveled to Minneapolis and absolutely obliterated Minnesota 6-1. So far this season, United has posted a league record of 15-9-9.

People weren’t lying when they said Atlanta could be a soccer city. Fans have scrambled to the Mercedes-Benz Stadium to watch their new team throughout the campaign. In fact, Atlanta claimed the fourth highest attendance record in the world, when 70,425 supporters came to witness the Week 28 fixture against Orlando City.

Why have the fans been returning to the gates of the stadium this season? How have they been so successful in just one season of MLS play? Well, let’s try to find out.

The players

Atlanta selected their new players, who were just as good or even better than most MLS expansion clubs. One of the more notable acquisitions would be forward Josef Martinez.

Martinez joined United as the third designated player of the new roster. The Venezuelan played three full seasons in Italy’s top flight Serie A with Torino FC. Martinez amassed 13 goals and six assists in 76 appearances, while gaining valuable European football experience.

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He’s definitely carried that experience to the top of North American soccer. In just 19 games played this season, the 24-year-old has notched 18 goals thus far. His goal tally is good for fourth in the MLS right now, four places above TFC’s own Sebastian Giovinco.

Martinez has registered 66 shots – 31 on target – and carries a 27.3 percent chance to score when he touches the ball.

Joining Martinez in the front of the attack, are Yamil Asad and Hector Villalba. Both occupy positions as left and right midfielders to the sides of Martinez.

Villalba comes as another youth product of Honduras side San Lorenzo, at just the age of 23. By the time he was 21, Villalba notched 16 goals and 13 assists for El Tsunami del Sur. He’s started all 33 matches for Atlanta this season, while providing 13 goals and 10 assists.

Also from Argentina and 23-years-old is Martinez’ left flank in Asad, who is on a season long loan from Primera Division club Velez Sarsfield. He currently ties the team lead in assists with Villalba with 13. The young product notches 0.44 assists per 90 minutes this season.

Switching gears, the defensive component of Atlanta’s game contributes to the abilities of their starting 11. As a team, the defense has averaged 18.5 tackles per game and 13.8 interceptions every match.

The man to watch for in the backline is centre-back Leandro Gonzalez Pirez. He’s surely Atlanta’s most valuable defender, at the age of 25.

Pirez grasps 2.4 tackles, 3.1 interceptions and 3.9 clearances per game. Those stats alone are good for an average match rating of 7.38, which is fourth highest on the club.

Pirez also adds to United’s quick, counter attacking way of playing football. He’s lodged one goal and three assists so far this season.

To finalize the lineup of Atlanta United are goalkeepers Brad Guzan and Alec Kann. Guzan spent eight seasons with Aston Villa and had a short spell with Middlesbrough, before arriving to Atlanta.

Guzan has notched 2.6 saves per game this season, while winning the Man of the Match twice. His most impressive performance this season was against the New England Revolution, when he made several crucial saves to keep the score 0-0.

Guzan loves distributing the ball to his defenders and midfielders, which sparks the start of an attack. The 33-year-old holds a 73.8 percent pass distribution rate at the moment.

Kann on the other hand splits duties with Guzan, which is a creative way to make sure both goalies keep at the best of form.

Kann has had more playing time than Guzan and has used those minutes relatively well. He currently saves around 44 percent of his shots on target, stopping 3.1 shots per match. Your guess is as good as mine when trying to decipher who gets the nod this Sunday. The decision will likely keep Toronto FC on their toes.

Atlanta United boast a young and pacey roster for just a first year club. TFC will have to keep an eye on this portion of players, while dealing with the likeliness of the other arsenal that United contain.


Atlanta prefer to line up in a 4-3-3. Sometimes, they set a lone striker at the top of the formation with three attacking players behind them, therefore making it a 4-2-3-1. If they plan to defend more, they drop more midfielders back towards the defence and use their speed to hit opponents on the break.

United’s best use of the formation was their 6-1 thrashing of Minnesota. The snow proved to be no problem. Atlanta spreads the game out, which in turn, allows attackers like Martinez to carve through the backline and go towards goal.

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A lot of Atlanta’s games have involved them pushing players forward to surround the opponent into their box. As a result of Atlanta’s shoot-first mentality, they are able to pound multiple shots on opposing goalies in just one period of possession.

They performed this exact tactic against the Revolution in a 7-0 beat down. Atlanta started with the through balls, and then transitioned into a possession type of squad which frustrated New England into taking two red cards.

It would not be surprising if Atlanta played a more conservative game against the Reds. Toronto FC has proved to cycle the ball very well this season, and tends to shock the opposition with their ability to open up a defence with their fast tempo. This combination might be the poison to Atlanta’s formation, especially if they plan to take risks.

Buildup to Sunday

These two teams met each other back in April in a contest that many considered the game of the year. A 2-2 draw with a plethora of incredible football should be enough to get fans excited about this one. The game has so much on the line and it features two of the best teams this season.

Next: TFC tie MLS record for most points in a season

Is it even possible not to be excited for TFC’s upcoming contest? How confident are you in their ability to get the point they need, to set the new MLS single season points record? Let us know in the comments below!