ATLANTA – Nick DeLeon scored the tiebreaking goal in the 78th minute, Quentin Westberg stuffed a penalty kick and Toronto FC advanced to the MLS Cup title game with a 2-1 victory over defending champion Atlanta United in the Eastern Conference final Wednesday night.
Nicolas Benezet also scored for Toronto, which knocked off the top teams in the East – New York City FC and Atlanta – to earn a shot at the championship Nov. 10 at Seattle. The Sounders upset Supporters’ Shield winner Los Angeles FC 3-1 in the Western final Tuesday night.
Atlanta jumped ahead just four minutes into the game on Julian Gressel’s goal and had a chance to increase the margin on a penalty. But Westberg got a hand on Josef Martinez’s kick for the spot, which kept Toronto in the game.
DeLeon won it with a brilliant shot from 25 yards out. Surrounded by Atlanta defenders, he found just enough room to unleash a right-footed blast from 25 yards that beat goalkeeper Brad Guzan in the top left corner.
Toronto FC returns to the title game just two seasons after winning the title with one of the greatest years in MLS history. The Canadian team slumped badly in 2018, missing the playoffs, but now finds itself playing for another championship after two straight impressive road victories.
One more will be required to take the cup.
It was a bitter ending for Atlanta, which would have host the MLS Cup title game for the second year in a row with a victory. United won the Campeones Cup and the U.S. Cup, but this was the title they really wanted – especially in the final season for captain Michael Parkhurst, who is retiring. The longtime MLS stalwart came up two wins short of another title.
United jumped ahead just 4 minutes into the game, catching Toronto with a long pass while the back line was lingering in the midfield. Pity Martinez broke in all alone and, with two defenders trying desperately to run him down, spotted Gressel streaking down the right wing. Martinez dumped a pass to Gressel, who easily flicked the ball into an open net for his first career playoff goal.
Atlanta really had the visiting team reeling before the 10-minute mark, set up by another long pass to Pity Martinez. The Argentine midfielder was taken down in the area by Michael Bradley, resulting in a penalty kick that sent United star Josef Martinez to the spot.
Martinez had converted 18 of 21 penalties during all competitions this season, but his shot lacked its usual zip. Westberg guessed right, dove that way and stuck out his right hand to keep Atlanta’s lead to a single goal.
In the 14th, Toronto seized on that missed opportunity, With its only real good scoring chance of the first half, Benezet found a bit of room at the left edge of the area and let go of a curling shot that eluded Guzan’s stretch, caught the far post and went in.
It was the first goal allowed by Atlanta in three post-season games.