Javier Perez has confirmed he intends to rotate his side against Atlanta United as next week’s Canadian Championship semi-final with Pacific takes priority for Toronto.
The Reds have long been out of MLS Cup Playoffs contention and are can finish no higher or lower than 13th in the Eastern Conference with two games remaining.
Toronto’s chances of success in 2021 depend on their domestic cup, with Pacific to come on Wednesday and then CF Montreal in the final should they make it to that stage.
Perez is already thinking ahead to next week’s showdown at BMO Field and says any other coach in his position would do the same.
“We all know at this point that the cup is the priority for the club,” he said. “The timescale is very tight, with a lot of games.
“We’ve got a tough game against Atlanta and I’d say that, yes, the following game will influence my selection.
“We’ll still go to Atlanta with a team that can compete for the three points, but we will have to make modifications to get the team ready for the following Wednesday.
“That’s the same case for every team – you can’t keep the same line-up for three straight weeks.”
While Toronto have little riding on Saturday’s match at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the stakes could not be any higher for opponents Atlanta.
After beating Inter Miami 2-1, a game they trailed with 59 minutes gone, United are sixth in the Eastern Conference and are on the verge of clinching an MLS Cup Playoffs spot.
“I could not be more proud of how this group of young, talented players reacted in the last game,” head coach Gonzalo Pineda said.
“It tells me again that the mentality of this team is getting stronger and stronger. For me, the first comeback of the year, for this group of players, is massive.
“It’s those guys in the locker room and the guys that log minutes on the field who deserve the respect.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Atlanta United – Luiz Araujo
Araujo was Atlanta’s key performer in the 2-1 win against Inter Miami and is hitting peak form at just the right time for the Five Stripes. The former Lille attacker scored one and assisted the other, while also leading the way in terms of shots (six), shots on target (four) and free-kicks won (three).
Toronto FC – Alejandro Pozuelo
Even accounting for the changes promised by Perez, Toronto still have some players in their ranks that are capable of derailing Atlanta’s playoff push. After not missing a start through the whole of last season, 2021 has been a frustrating one for Pozuelo and he will be eager to get some more minutes under his belt on Saturday.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– Atlanta have won both of their matches against Toronto this season, keeping clean sheets in both. Prior to this season, Atlanta had one win in eight meetings with Toronto (D3 L4, including playoffs), only managing to keep a clean sheet in the win.
– United came from behind against Miami to earn their 10th win in the last 14 matches (D1 L3). Atlanta have won five of their six home matches in that span (D1), outscoring opponents 14-4 at Mercedes Benz Stadium.
– For an MLS-high 17th time this season, Toronto trailed at half-time in Wednesday’s meeting with Philadelphia. Toronto drew 2-2 with Philadelphia Union, just the third time this season the club’s earned a point after trailing at the half (W1 D2 L14).
– Araujo has been involved in five of Atlanta United’s last six goals (two goals, three assists), including a goal and an assist in the 2-1 win over Inter Miami. Araujo recorded just one goal and one assist in their first eight appearances in MLS.
– Noble Okello had an assist in Toronto’s 2-2 draw with Philadelphia for the first goal contribution (goal or assist) of his MLS career. Okello is the 16th different player to have an assist for Toronto this season.