Atlanta United falls to Toronto on late penalty kick

Atlanta United played at Toronto FC.    PHOTO: Steve Kingsman / Freestyle Photography for Atlanta United

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Atlanta United played at Toronto FC. PHOTO: Steve Kingsman / Freestyle Photography for Atlanta United

Atlanta United lost to Toronto 3-2 on Wednesday when the Canadian hosts made their penalty in the final seconds, and Atlanta United missed its penalty on the game’s final kick.

Goals from Pity Martinez and Julian Gressel, both in the first half, were offset by goals from Tsubasa Endoh and a brace from Alejandro Pozuelo that included the game-winning penalty after Richie Laryea was thought to be tripped by Flo Pogba. Leandro Gonzalez Pirez said he watched video of the play 10 times after the game and Laryea wasn't touched. Gonzalez Pirez wondered why referee Alan Kelly didn't review the play.

It was the first time this season that the Five Stripes allowed three goals in a league game.

“If you come away with one point with 10 seconds left and take one point you can be satisfied, of course,” Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer said.

After Pozuelo’s penalty in the second minute of stoppage time, a cross by Gonzalez Pirez resulted in a handball. Toronto’s players tried to leave the field, but Gonzalez Pirez implored Kelly to talk to the video assistant referee.

After a review, Kelly ruled there was a handball. Martinez stepped up to take the penalty, but put his shot way over the crossbar to seal the loss. Martinez declined to speak after the game.

“He told me he wanted to hit the shot hard across the goal to not give the goalkeeper any chance to save it,” Gonzalez Pirez said. “Obviously, we feel for him. Everyone makes mistakes.”

Atlanta United (8-6-2), which played just three times previously this month, stays at 26 points and will host Montreal on Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Gressel said losing on a missed penalty is no more deflating than any other type of loss.

“A loss is a loss,” Gressel said. “It’s zero points for us. Three for them.”

De Boer was forced to select a lineup that didn't include Josef Martinez, who is with Venezuela at the Copa America in Brazil, and injured midfielders Ezequiel Barco and Hector Villalba. It was the first time in the team's history that neither Martinez nor Villalba started a league game. Additionally, de Boer was reduced to a six-man bench because Andrew Carleton didn't have his passport when he met the team on Tuesday to travel to Canada.

Still, de Boer’s lineup was familiar with Brad Guzan in goal and a backline composed of Michael Parkhurst, Miles Robinson, Gonzalez Pirez and Brek Shea. The midfield included Eric Remedi, Darlington Nagbe, Dion Pereira, Pity Martinez and Gressel playing underneath striker Brandon Vazquez, who earned his first MLS start after scoring four goals in the past two U.S. Open Cup matches.

But Toronto took a 1-0 lead in the first minute on a goal by Endoh. The play started with Nagbe uncharacteristically giving away the ball in Atlanta United’s third. Parkhurst’s attempted tackle didn’t lead to a dispossession. Instead, the ball bounced to Marco Delgado who passed it to Jacob Shaffelburg. His cross was deflected and eventually bounced to Endoh to tap home after just 28 seconds of play.

“I’m more frustrated and disappointed in the way we played for 90 minutes because it certainly wasn’t good enough,” Guzan said.  “We knew it was going to be a tough game. When you gift them a goal a minute into the game you’ve really got your work cut out.”

Atlanta United tied the game at on a penalty kick by Martinez in the 17th minute. The penalty was the result of a video review of a handball penalty committed by Pozuelo around the 14th minute. There wasn’t a stop in play until three minutes later. It was Martinez’s second goal this season.

Atlanta United took a 2-1 lead on a goal by Gressel in the 22nd minute after good work by Vazquez, who ran around Toronto’s Laurent Ciman to chase down a loose ball. It was Gressel’s third league goal this season.

Toronto tied the game at 2 in the 27th minute on a header from Pozuelo, who got behind Robinson and in front of Gonzalez Pirez. Guzan said Pozuelo’s shot went off Gonzalez Pirez’s head. The assist came from Shaffelburg, who was having his way down the right side of Atlanta United’s formation for most of the half. Things weren’t much better for Atlanta United on its left, either.

De Boer said his team was pressing too high, so he switched to more of a zonal marking system in the second half to try to regain control of the flanks.

“You talk about spacing, you talk about getting close to guys, we didn’t do any of that tonight,” Guzan said.

Toronto hit the crossbar with a shot midway through the second half. Pozuelo missed an open header from 6 yards on another opportunity in the 74th minute.

De Boer made two subs in the 77th minute, bringing on Jeff Larentowicz for Pereira and Pogba for Gressel. With the two changes, the team switched to three centerbacks in Robinson, Gonzalez Pirez and Pogba, two wingbacks in Parkhurst and Shea, three central midfielders in Nagbe, Larentowicz and Remedi, and two strikers in Vazquez and Martinez.

The moves seemed to spark Atlanta United, which wasted a counter attack near the 80th minute and then saw a shot by a sliding Vazquez in the 83rd minute sail just wide.

“it was a pity that he couldn’t score a goal for us because it would have been a relief for us,” de Boer said.

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