ATLANTA -- With the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs right around the corner, it's the time of year when many head coaches keep their personnel choices buttoned up, and Atlanta United manager Gerardo "Tata" Martino followed the pattern.
Martino was brief in his responses to a couple questions following training on Friday.
“Maybe,” he said, before letting the gathered reporters know when they’d find out for sure: “Sunday.”
But Martino was crystal clear when it came to discussing the many strengths of Toronto, who have a chance to break the single-season MLS record for total points and wins on Decision Day.
“They’ve sustained a really high level of play throughout the season,” he said, speaking through a translator. “They have a roster that’s not just 11 deep, but they have a full roster, so they’ve been able to rotate guys into the squad and keep up that same level.”
“[Toronto is] just a team where the role players know their role, they do it very well, and they support the two big guns up top,” added Atlanta captain Michael Parkhurst. “We know that they’re very strong and very capable. And we know that we need to have a very, very good performance if we’re going to win that game.”
“There’s a reason why they won the Supporters' Shield, there’s a reason why they’re trying to set a new point total record come Sunday,” he said. “We know it’s going to be a hard game, from front to back, from start to finish.”
“We can’t just pay attention to those two guys, we have to also be careful with who’s feeding them the ball,” he said. “We have to be attentive to [Michael] Bradley, [Victor] Vazquez, [Justin] Morrow, [Marky] Delgado.”
Parkhurst said Atlanta learned a few lessons from their previous matchup against TFC, when he says Atlanta became too stretched in the first half, allowing Giovinco and Altidore to put get the Atlanta backline into 1v1 and 2v2 matchups. Atlanta will try to avoid those situations as they prepare for another fast-paced, up-and-down match.
Regardless of Sunday’s result, Parkhurst believes his team will be ready to face off against anyone in the Eastern Conference in the playoffs, including Toronto.
“We’re going to be confident,” said Parkhurst. “We think we have a team that can compete against anybody in the league.”