Atlanta United vs. Toronto: 3 questions

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Credit: David Chant

Atlanta United (15-9-9) will host Toronto (20-5-8) at 4 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in what should be an exciting game.

The Five Stripes trail second-place NYCFC by two points. Second place comes with a bye in the first round of the playoffs, which begin Oct. 25.

The two teams tied 2-2 when they met in April. Atlanta United is 0-1-2 in its past three games. Toronto is 2-1-0.

Kurt Larson answered three questions ahead of Sunday's game. Larson covers Toronto FC, Major League Soccer and the Canadian men's and women's national teams for the Toronto Sun, as well as international soccer for Postmedia. Larson attended Drake University in Des Moines, IA, where he played NCAA soccer while attaining a journalism degree. Larson grew up a Kansas City Wiz/Wizards fan while living in Olathe, KS. He is a dual American-Canadian citizen, with absolutely no connection to Georgia. 

1. Will Toronto use its strongest possible lineup on Sunday?
I think so, especially after putting in a poor performance in a lazy 1-0 win over the Montreal Impact last Sunday. Questions linger as to whether Toronto FC peaked too soon this season. I'd argue they haven't looked like themselves since the beginning of September. For that reason, I think coach Greg Vanney will want to make sure guys like Sebastian Giovinco, who just returned from injury, is firing on all cylinders. Similarly, TFC's defensive unit, including goalkeeper Alex Bono, haven't been as clean as they need to be. Keep in mind TFC knows it has 10 or 11 days off before the club's first playoff game. The team knows it will have plenty of time to recover after pushing for the all-time single-season points record this weekend. Oh, and it won't hurt to get a feel for Mercedes-Benz Stadium, a venue TFC might have to return to at some point during the post-season. 

2. Who is the team's MVP and why
My pick: Victor Vazquez. 
But, I wouldn't argue if someone said Michael Bradley or Jozy Altidore. 
Bradley has been a fixture in the lineup. His leadership qualities aren't quantifiable. 
Altidore, for me, is the best target man Major League Soccer has ever seen. The American international has put in some big performances this season. 
Still, Vazquez has been the most outstanding, in my opinion. If Atlanta fans think Miguel Almiron is a good passer of the ball. Wait until they see Vazquez, who has the most combined game-winning goals and assists in Major League Soccer this season. 

3. Of the five remaining teams, which is Toronto's best matchup in semifinals and which is toughest?
Toughest: New York Red Bulls. 
Toronto FC always struggles at Red Bull Arena. And, the Red Bulls always seem to turn up at BMO Field. 
If there's one thing TFC has struggled against this season it's high pressure. Atlanta did it when it travelled to BMO Field earlier this year. As did Kansas City. Both matches ended in draws. 
New York looked like the better team at BMO Field for long stretches when they came to Toronto last month. 
Plus, I think the Red Bulls might be best positioned to make a run in the Eastern Conference. They know their playoff path. For that reason, look for them to rest guys this weekend while teams like Atlanta and Columbus and Chicago slug it out. 
Best matchup: Chicago
While I don't think any two-leg series will be easy for Toronto, the Chicago Fire haven't been good on the road this season. I was tempted to say Columbus until I realized the Crew are unbeaten in nine. You want to stay away from hot teams come November.

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