Atlanta United ties Eastern Conference champion Toronto

Toronto FC's Chris Mavinga (23) beats Atlanta United forward Hector Villalba (15) to the ball during the first half of an MLS soccer match Saturday, April 8, 2017, in Toronto. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
Caption
Toronto FC's Chris Mavinga (23) beats Atlanta United forward Hector Villalba (15) to the ball during the first half of an MLS soccer match Saturday, April 8, 2017, in Toronto. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)

Credit: Chris Young

Credit: Chris Young

Toronto -- For the second consecutive week, Atlanta United FC held its own against a top-flight club in MLS.

A week after playing to a scoreless draw against the defending MLS Cup champion Seattle Sounders, Atlanta earned a single point in a 2-2 decision against the reigning Eastern Conference champion Toronto FC on Saturday night.

Given the circumstances, Atlanta United coach Gerardo Martino is pleased with the way the first two games of four on the road have gone.

“Two good ties on the road against two of the best teams in the league and in the case of tonight, we were down a man,” said Martino. “We were playing at a disadvantage so in that sense, it was a good point.”

Hector Villalba scored twice for Atlanta United (2-1-2) and keeper Alec Kann made seven saves to preserve the single point.

Kann admitted the team got careless at times in the opening half.

"We made it a little hard on ourselves losing the ball in the middle of the field, but as the game went on, we worked through it," he said. "It shows the character of the group: we're strong-willed. Two straight draws on the road, we'd like to win, but two tough environments, two good teams, two finalists from last year so those are two great results." 
Sebastian Giovinco and Justin Morrow had the goals for Toronto (1-0-4).

Five observations about the game

Carded. Jeff Larentowicz was shown a yellow in the ninth minute after taking down Jozy Altidore. On the ensuing free kick, Giovinco's strike curled just left of the goal.

Then in the 17th minute, just moments after putting Atlanta on the board, Villalba was shown a yellow for his hard challenge on Jozy Altidore.

In the 74th minute, Yamil Asad received a straight red card after appearing to catch Eriq Zavaleta with elbow to the head. It’s the second red card issued to Atlanta United this season.

“I didn’t see the play in the moment and I wasn’t able to see the replay, so I can’t really comment on it,” said Martino. “If the referee made that decision, he must’ve been sure.”

The goals. Atlanta opened the scoring in the 15th minute when Villalba picked up a through ball from Miguel Almiron, out ran Toronto defender Chris Mavinga, and put a right-footed strike far side past Alex Bono for his second goal of the season.

Five minutes later, the Reds responded as Giovinco picked up a nifty one-touch feed from Altidore and beat Kann for his first of the season.

The goal was the first one conceded by Atlanta in 260 minutes dating back to the 30th minute of their 6-1 victory over Minnesota on March 12.

Toronto took its first lead of the evening in the 44th minute as Morrow re-directed a Steven Beitashour strike past Kann for his second of the season.

Villalba’s second of the evening, and third of the season, tied the game 2-2 in the 47th minute. The 22-year-old Argentinian was sent in all alone by Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, fought off Mavinga, and beat Bono between the legs for the equalizer.

Martino credited Villalba’s goals to the team’s ability expose TFC’s defensive formation.

“We had talked to the players about trying to go at Toronto’s back line of three defenders and Tito was able to get into the space,” Martino said. “He has that ability: he’s able to get into the space between the defenders, he had two good chances to score and even had another chance to score as well.”

The saves. Kann made several key saves in the second half to preserve the single point for Atlanta.

In the 65th minute, with Beitashour charging a loose ball in the area, Kann made an aggressive challenge to get the ball out of harms way.

Six minutes later, Victor Vazquez got around an Atlanta defender with some fancy footwork, but his strike goes right to the arms of Kann.

Altidore had an excellent chance in the 86th minute, off a Giovinco through ball, but couldn’t get his foot on the ball in the area.

Kann credited goalkeeper coach Aron Hyde for having him prepared for Saturday’s challenge.

“He just prepared me for Giovinco, Altidore – all the weapons they have and my job is to keep us in the game,” Kann said. “We were up against the ropes in the first half and a little bit in the second half and thankfully I was able to keep us in the game.

“That’s a huge point, that’s going to propel us. That shows the character of the group and it’ll be huge for the team as the season goes on.”

The venue. Saturday marked Atlanta United's first ever trip north of the border to Canada and Toronto's BMO Field. Toronto played on their home pitch for the second consecutive game after opening the season with three straight away matches.

The game also saw the debut of Atlanta United’s secondary kit. The uniforms feature grey jerseys and white shorts with a red trim.

The announced attendance for Atlanta’s first trip to Canada was 26,812.

The lineup. Atlanta was without the services of Jacob Peterson for Saturday's match after the 31-year-old suffered an ankle injury during training. Peterson scored in Atlanta United's 6-1 win over Minnesota United FC on March 12 and made his first start of the season last weekend in Seattle.

The forward is expected to be available next week when Atlanta United visits the Montreal Impact as they continue a stretch of four straight road games.

Atlanta was also without starting forward Josef Martinez for a second straight match. The 23-year-old Venezuelan is expected to miss the next three-to-five weeks with a quad injury.

Defender Zach Loyd, who has yet to play this season, missed his fifth game due to a groin injury.