Photo credit: Toronto FC Instagram

Toronto FC beat Atlanta United 2-0 in a game where tactical fixes were the key to their success. Head coach John Herdman’s team won with a goal from their first pick of the MLS SuperDraft, Tyrese Spicer, and from Prince Owusu, who scored his first goal with the Reds. The rookie described this moment as “surreal.”

As was expected, Herdman made some changes to his starting XI. Spicer started his first MLS game. Federico Bernardeschi lined up alongside Lorenzo Insigne and not as a win-back. 

Deandre Kerr started as the main striker instead of Ayo Akinola or Owusu.  

First half

The game started with Toronto having the ball and trying to create some opportunities. The first chance came with an Insigne shot that went wide from the goal, trying to replicate his goal from New England’s game. 

Even having the majority of the possession, TFC was unable to unlock Atlanta’s defence. The football creation problem in the midfield still was an issue. The centre-backs couldn’t find any open player, and it was the same when players like Matty Longstaff or Alonso Coello had the ball. 

Atlanta got its best opportunity of the half on a shot that went wide after goalkeeper Luka Gavran’s bad pass in the 12th minute. At this point, the game was in Toronto’s favour, but they still had trouble finding connections between players. They were too isolated in the wide areas of the pitch when they were attacking. 

In the 28th minute, Shane O’Neill was subbed for Aime Mabika after receiving a hit in the face by Atlanta’s player, Tristan Muyumba. 

Spicer started to shine with the counterattack. He took the ball with great technique and passed it to Insigne. The Italian crossed the ball, but Atlanta’s goalkeeper, Brad Guzan, was alert and stopped the opportunity, catching the ball at the edge of the box. 

Four minutes later, in the 38th minute, Insigne triangled with Kerr and Spicer who put the ball at the end of the net with a strong shot from outside the box and put Toronto FC ahead 1-0.

After that, it was all TFC. Guzan stopped what would be a second goal on a header from Kerr after a lovely combination between the two Italians with two back-heel passes and a great cross from Bernardeschi. 

Second half

The two centre-forwards were too wide and Herdman noticed. One of the tactical fixes late in the first half was to put them closer together to generate more opportunities from the middle of the final third. 

Because of an injury, Insigne was subbed before the start of the second half and Kosi Thompson came in. Longstaff took Insigne’s spot. 

Toronto played almost identically in the first 15 minutes of the first half. They let Atlanta have the ball and were more of a counterattacking team. 

The game became rough for TFC, but the defensive wall came through. The first time was a shot blocked by Sigurd Roasted that ended in a corner. Atlanta started to send more men on the attack, trying to get the goal to tie the game. 

In the 69th minute, Jonathan Osorio had the best chance to put them 2-0, but the left post denied the goal after a good combination with Bernardeschi. 

Only one minute later, Owusu—who entered in the 55th minute—scored the second goal for the Reds on a rebound from Coello’s shot, finishing a streak of 490 minutes without scoring and bagging his first MLS goal. 

The defensive wall showed up again, blocking another Atlanta shot. Toronto got more confident with the 2–0 and started to get leverage from Atlanta’s urge for scoring and continued counterattacking, having a couple of shots from Bernardeschi.

He had the chance to put the score 3-0 in extra time, but Guzman denied the goal for the Italian. 

The art of self-examination

Herdman learned from the mistakes of the last game against New York City FC and put players in a position to succeed. Spicer and Kerr were the answer for the dynamism that TFC needed. 

Also, in the middle of the game, Herdman made some changes in the tactics of the middle of the field to fix the disconnection between the attackers and the midfielders coming from Atlanta’s high press. 

“For us was about rolling Lorenzo [Insigne] around wide because McCarthy marked him and then using Matty [Longstaff] joining in the inside to create the plus one,” Herman said.

“We ask for a plus one to extend and seat Fede, to come and join Lorenzo to give the extra number… After that, we got rhythm in the game,” added Herdman when asked about the adjustments in the first half. 

The insides

  • Spicer. the no. 1 overall pick from the MLS SuperDraft got his first start. He already made his debut against New York City FC, playing 15 minutes. 
  • Spicer became the sixth different no.1 overall pick to score in his first career start. 
  • This is the 10th time in Toronto FC history that they have remained unbeaten in their opening two home matches
  • This is the fifth time in their history they have won their two home opening matches.