Atlanta United advance in eMLS Tournament Special after dominating Orlando, edging Toronto in thriller

Screengrab: Atlanta United winning goal - eMLS Tournament Special - May 10, 2020

Atlanta United continued their dominance over rivals Orlando City, this time on the console, on the way to a thrilling win in Episode 4 of the eMLS Tournament Special presented by Coca-Cola and PlayStation.

The Five Stripes, represented by Franco Escobar and eMLS pro Paulo Neto, posted back-to-back 2-0 victories to shut out rival Orlando, featuring Portuguese legend Nani. They then went on to win perhaps the most thrilling eMLS Tournament Special series to date, taking until the 84th minute of the final game to find the winning goal in a series that saw some of the highest-level FIFA we’ve seen to date on both the MLS and eMLS sides.

TFC made it tough all the way to the end, dominating Vancouver Whitecaps FC thanks in large part to to a master class from midfielder Marky Delgado.  They then took the lead in both legs of the final, only to concede in each just before halftime, setting up Neto’s late-game heroics.

Atlanta will now head to the championship round of the tournament, which will take place on May 17. Escobar and Neto will face another tough matchup against New York City FC’s Sean Johnson and Didychrislito, with the winner of that series facing the winner of the other semifinal between LAFC and Sporting KC (full schedule and scores).

Keep on reading below for a recap and highlights of all of Sunday’s Episode 4 action, and be sure to check back on MLSsoccer.com and eMLS channels for more information and analysis ahead of next weekend’s final.

Toronto FC 4, Vancouver Whitecaps 0

Marky Delgado (TOR) 3, Erik Godoy (VAN) 0: There were whispers before the game that the TFC midfielder had been practicing for this tournament, and it quickly showed. Delgado opened the scoring with a 15th-minute goal thanks to a defense-splitting through ball. He continued to have upper hand after that, and got off to a flying start in the second half by scoring with himself to finish off a well-worked move. 

He saved the best for last, picking up a wide-open teammate at the back post after a terrific 360 turn on the endline using Toronto newcomer Pablo Piatti.

PhilB94 (TOR) 1, exraa (VAN) 0: Toronto’s eMLS pro had a comfortable cushion heading into this one, allowing PhilB94 to sit and absorb the pressure. Exraa naturally saw more of the ball as he pushed to make up the aggregate deficit, but he was not quick enough in the attack to get past his opponent’s well-marshaled defense. The Vancouver man’s best look was well-saved just after the hour mark, and PhilB94 added a tally to get on the scoresheet himself with a clean hit at the back post to finish off a counterattack.

Atlanta United 4, Orlando City 0

Franco Escobar (ATL) 2, Nani (ORL) 0: The frequent on-field rivals played out a tense first half — Escobar had the advantage for much of it, but did not seriously trouble the Orlando ‘keeper. The Argentine took an even more aggressive tack in the second half, and it finally paid off just after the 60-minute mark on the virtual clock as he patiently found Pity Martinez for the finish. Escobar then fully capitalized on his dominance with a minute left, burying a second on one of his many counterattacks as Nani pushed for an equalizer:

Paulo Neto (ATL) 2, FIFA Abe (ORL) 0: Paulo Neto backed up his status as an eMLS favorite — not to mention the 11th-ranked FIFA 20 player in the world — by not just holding, but doubling Atlanta’s aggregate lead. FIFA Abe made him work to start, but the 17-year-old Brazilian phenom took the lead once he was able to catch his opponent slightly out of position in defense.

The three-goal advantage allowed Neto to play a patient game, and he was even able to put an exclamation point on the rout when he skillfully rounded the Orlando 'keeper to net one more in second-half stoppage time.

Quarterfinal 4: Atlanta United 3, Toronto FC 2

Marky Delgado (TOR) 1, Franco Escobar (ATL) 1: Delgado was all over Escobar to start the final, scoring with one of his very first attacks of the game and continuing to put his foot on the guess until the very end of the half, when Escobar took advantage of some complacency to score on an incisive passing move:

It was more of the same in the second half, with Delgado dominating and forcing two quick saves in succession out of the virtual Brad Guzan in Atlanta’s goal. Escobar had two great looks of his own in the 75th minute, but still not good enough to beat the opposing ‘keeper, leaving everything to play for between the two eMLS pros.

Paulo Neto (ATL) 2, PhilB94 (TOR) 1: The second leg of the TFC-Atlanta series started in almost identical fashion to the first, as PhilB94 buried an early goal after some sloppy play in the back by the Brazilian youngster. Neto quickly sharpened up, going back down the field and testing the TFC backline and ‘keeper on several occasions throughout the first half before finally breaking through in the 44th minute, again in strikingly similar fashion to the first game:

The story of the second leg seemed to match that of the first as the second half wore on, bringing with it the possibility that the quarterfinal would be decided by the golden goal for the second week in a row. And just like so many times in real life, it came down to the brilliance of the virtual Josef Martinez, who found enough space in the 84th minute to unleash a powerful game-winning shot that broke TFC hearts and sent the Five Stripes to the semifinal.