Sports

Atlanta United claims 4th seed after 2-2 draw with Toronto in regular-season finale

If Atlanta United’s inaugural Decision Day, played in front of an MLS-record crowd of 71,874 fans against the league’s best team, ended 10 minutes earlier, it could have secured an easier road through the playoffs. Instead, a near-perfect free kick from Toronto’s Sebastian Giovinco means the first-year club will have to fight its way through the MLS knockout round.

Giovinco stole Atlanta United’s lead — and claim of the Eastern Conference’s second seed and a first-round bye — for good on Sunday evening with a 22-yard screamer that nicked the crossbar and in past diving goalkeeper Brad Guzan. The goal pushed the Five Stripes back to the fourth seed, where they will host the Columbus Crew in the knockout round later this week.

The club defeated Columbus twice this season by an aggregate score of 5-1.

Atlanta United capped its regular season with a 15-9-10 record and 55 points.

“Hopefully we’re going to be meeting (Toronto) in the playoffs in later rounds,” team president Darren Eales said after the game.

Atlanta United opened up the scoring in the regular-season home finale just as it had in its inaugural home game back in March — with 23-year-old midfielder Tamil Asad finding the back of the net. The Argentinian product buried his seventh goal of the campaign on a penalty kick in the 31st minute:

Calm. Cool. Collected.

Yamil Asad slots it in perfectly. 1-0 @ATLUTD. #UniteAndConquerpic.twitter.com/XUSjf0l3yv

— FOX Sports South (@FOXSportsSouth) October 22, 2017

Following Jozy Altidore’s equalizer right after halftime, Josef Martinez beat Toronto’s back line to the front post to notch his 19th goal of the season, the fourth-best mark in the league, and put the Five Stripes back in front.

"Brilliant cross. Brilliant finish. Typical for Martinez and @ATLUTD is back in front!"

Alan Green's call = ??? #UniteAndConquerpic.twitter.com/q7tJYl930P

— FOX Sports South (@FOXSportsSouth) October 22, 2017

Twenty-four minutes later, Giovinco knotted the score for good.

Now Columbus, a club starting midfielder Jeff Larentowicz said plays a similar style, awaits.

Captain Michael Pankhurst succinctly wrapped up the regular season by addressing the home crowd and looking ahead to this week’s first-ever payoff appearance: “We’re going to put on a good show for you.”

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