Past two MLS champs meet in Eastern Conference final
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If Atlanta United FC is to have a shot at repeating as MLS Cup champion, it must get by a Toronto FC side that's also familiar with playing for a league title.
The last two MLS Cup champs meet Wednesday night when Atlanta hosts TFC in the Eastern Conference final.
The No. 2 seed in the East, Atlanta hasn't had an easy journey on its title follow-up season under first-year coach Frank de Boer. However, United is now one game away from a return to the final after outscoring New England and Philadelphia by a combined 3-0 in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
"There's only one option: to win," Atlanta star Josef Martinez, who scored his 28th league goal of 2019 on Thursday in a 2-0 win over the Union, told the official website of MLS.
"Everyone wants to win. (Toronto has) a team with many experienced and talented players, but we have to think of ourselves and playing the final at home."
United has won four straight at home, where it's 14-1-1 since opening 0-1-2 there. Though Atlanta beat Toronto 2-0 at home on May 8, fourth-seeded TFC just knocked off the top seed in the East to get to the conference final.
Minus injured star Jozy Altidore (quad), who is questionable for Wednesday, TFC got a pair of Alejandro Pozuelo goals -- the second on a 90th-minute penalty kick -- to upset host New York City FC 2-1 on Oct. 23. Pozuelo (14 goals, 13 assists overall in 2019) has been the most consistent presence for Toronto, which won its only MLS Cup in 2017 and also reached the league final in 2016.
Though TFC won the most recent meeting with United, 3-2 at home on June 26, it's 0-1-2 all-time at Atlanta. However, that doesn't mean Toronto, amid a 6-0-6 overall stretch, won't be up to the challenge.
"It's going to be tough. For sure, it's going to be tough," Toronto defender Justin Morrow told the club's official website. "To be good in this league, you're going to have to beat good opponents now.
"(We're going to need) a good team defensive effort to be able to shut (Atlanta) down."
Atlanta will again be without talented defender Miles Robinson (hamstring) while teammate Michael Parkhurst (shoulder) is questionable.