• Toronto FC 2 (Altidore 60’, Giovinco 84’), Atlanta United FC 2 (Asad 31’, Martinez 74’)
• Toronto sets new mark for most points in an MLS season
• MLS single-game record attendance of 71, 874 in Atlanta
ATLANTA – The single greatest regular season in Major League Soccer history.
That’s what Toronto FC achieved in 2017, with a 2-2 draw against Atlanta United in Sunday evening’s season finale capping off a remarkable campaign for the Reds that included a first-ever Supporters’ Shield trophy as the MLS regular season champions.
TFC tied the 1998 LA Galaxy (68 points) for the points record in last week’s 1-0 home win over the Montreal Impact. Sunday’s draw, earned courtesy of a fantastic free kick goal from Sebastian Giovinco late in the match, allowed the Reds to tally 69 points on the year, and to erase the Galaxy’s name from the history books.
Jozy Altidore also scored in a man-of-the-match performance for TFC, who gathered a bit more momentum going into the post-season.
“We’re proud of [setting the record]. One of the things we set with this group was that we wanted to try to do something different, to be the best ever. You don’t know how to define that until you get going and see how a season goes and see what you can accomplish,” Toronto coach Greg Vanney stated.
Altidore took a quick moment to pat the team on the back for the accomplishment when speaking to reporters after the game. But in the very next breath he moved on, reminding everybody that the ultimate goal is to win MLS Cup.
“It’s something. At the end [of the day], there’s only one thing we want, one thing on our minds, and that’s trying to get to the final again,” Altidore dead-panned.
Captain Michael Bradley concurred, stating, “Over 34 games [in the regular season], we were the best team, and we proved that time and time again, and we’re very proud of that. Now, it all starts over – everything. Everybody starts again at zero, nobody is going to give us anything because we had a good regular season.”
He later added: “Everything that we’ve done up until now is going to go out the window. It’s just gone out the window. … We’ve talked about going for it for 34 games, giving everything to win the Supporters’ Shield, and then the second the season was over, regroup and making sure we were ready to find a new level for the playoffs. That’s what we’re going to do.”
In addition to breaking the points record, just as important to Vanney was how TFC was able to secure a result in Atlanta, a tough place for visiting teams and where an MLS single-game attendance record of 71, 874 spectators was set on Sunday.
“Today was a great preparation match for what the playoffs are all about. It was a very good match, two good teams, very tactical in nature,” Vanney said.
Altidore admitted there was room for improvement from TFC, lamenting his team’s lack of finishing in front of the goal in the first half.
“We still gave away goals too easily at times. We have try to put some of those [scoring] chances away early on to put the game away, especially come playoff time. We can’t keep letting teams hang around,” Altidore warned.
Vanney made two line-up changes, swapping in Steve Beitashour for Nicolas Hasler, and Canadian midfielder Jonathan Osorio for defender Eriq Zavaleta. With the new faces came a new formation, with Vanney switching from his preferred 3-5-2 to a fluid system that switched between a 4-3-3 and a flat 4-4-2.
Atlanta dominated possession in the first half, but it was TFC that looked more dangerous in attack, carving a pair of scoring chances that they should have buried. Goalkeeper Brad Guzan made solid saves on Giovinco and Altidore from point-blank range after both were played clear on goal via exquisite passes from Osorio.
The game turned against the Reds in the 21st minute when defender Drew Moor was judged to have handled the ball on a dangerous cross played into the box after a video review. Yamil Asad converted from the penalty spot, sending Toronto goalkeeper Alex Bono the wrong way.
Moor made amends early in the second half, expertly winning the ball in midfield and playing a long pass into the box. Altidore did a great job of beating an Atlanta defender to the ball before slipping his shot past Guzan.
Josef Martinez restored Atlanta’s lead with a remarkable finish, cutting in front of Moor to meet a cross into the box from Héctor Villalba before side-footing it home.
Giovinco equalized for Toronto with a majestic free kick from 25 yards out that kissed the underside of the crossbar before crossing the goal-line. All a helpless Guzan could do was watch in wonder and pick the ball out of the net behind him. It was Giovinco’s team-leading 16th goal of the season, and his 55th overall for Toronto in MLS.
A peach of a goal that was pure highlight-reel material, Giovinco’s wonder-strike quieted the boisterous crowd inside the Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Funny enough, Vanney originally thought the Italian was being too ambitious when he lined up to take the free kick with the intent of trying to score, instead of playing it into the box for a teammate.
“What a free kick. Kind of fitting for him to polish off the regular season like that. It was phenomenal. [At first] I thought it was a touch far for him to be able to beat Brad [Guzan], but if you pick out the upper corner like that with that kind of heat then you’re going to beat anybody. It was fantastic,” Vanney enthused.
NOTES: Atlanta and Toronto played to a 2-2 draw in their lone previous meeting at BMO Field on April 8. Giovinco and Justin Morrow scored for the Reds… Giovinco made his 100th appearance for Toronto on Sunday… TFC has a first-round bye in the MLS playoffs. They will meet the lowest-remaining seed in the Eastern Conference semifinals, with the schedule still to be determined. The Reds will have home-field advantage in the two-legged playoff series…