TORONTO – Atlanta United failed to secure the storybook ending they wanted on MLS Decision Day presented by AT&T, and watched the Supporters' Shield slip out of their grasp as they lost 4-1 to already-eliminated Toronto FC on Sunday at BMO Field.
With the defeat, the New York Red Bulls leapfrogged Atlanta into first place in the Eastern Conference courtesy of their concurrent 1-0 win over Orlando, earned the Supporters' Shield, and secured home-field advantage throughout the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs.
Last weekend, Atlanta tied Toronto's all-time single-season points record (69). The Decision Day matchup was a chance for Atlanta to set a new record with a result. Instead, New York took that honor as well, and leaving plenty of soul-searching to be done in the visiting locker room.
“This was the most important game of the year and we didn’t play well enough,” Tata Martino said. “We let all the hard work that we had done until that point go to waste.”
Atlanta captain Michael Parkhurst called it a “terrible performance.”
Goalkeeper Brad Guzan struggled to encapsulate the feeling: “Disappointing. Shocking. We never got started. We were poor everywhere.”
“It's rough at the minute,” Guzan said. “We didn't expect this from ourselves. There will be some conversations, tough [ones]. We need to make we put things right and put this behind us.”
Both sides had a goal disallowed at the start of the second half. Atlanta made it interesting when Josef Martinez ended his drought from the penalty spot, but late goals from Janson and Sebastian Giovinco sealed the night.
With so much at stake, it was a bad time for Atlanta to come out flat.
“The Supporters' Shield was a big goal of ours,” Parkhurst said. “We haven’t been quiet about that. We've wanted to go out and win it for a long time now. We put ourselves in a good position to do that. We just didn’t show up today when it was the biggest game.”
“We knew what this game meant for us, in terms of winning the shield and everything that came with it," Guzan said. "We just didn't show up.”
Atlanta United leave Toronto without a Supporters' Shield and a sense that they missed out on a trophy that was meant for them.
“My message to the team wasn't comfortable, not after the game or at half-time,” Martino said. “We did all this work, starting on January 15. We should have had a different performance today. We didn't… we betrayed ourselves, threw away everything we had worked for this season. It's always a possibility that you can lose away at Toronto, the important thing is the way that we lost it today.”