TORONTO – There is the match that never was.
Having won the 2017 MLS Cup, Toronto FC were not in the postseason for 2018 to defend their title. In their absence, Atlanta United FC lifted the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy last December at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Less than a year later, the two will meet in the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs on the Eastern Conference Final stage Wednesday, as the last two champions rather title-holder and challenger (8 pm ET | FS1, FOX Deportes in US; TVAS, TSN 1/4 in Canada).
“It’s a talking point,” admitted Greg Vanney on Sunday afternoon. “People will, maybe before the game, definitely after, have their Monday night armchair review of what happened and what that means for the history of the our teams.
“It’s an interesting [one],” he allowed. “We’re just a team trying to get to the final right now. But in the end there will be some discussion of what the significance of this game is.”
Last season, the two sides clashed at BMO Field on Decision Day, with Atlanta aiming for both Toronto’s all-time points record and the Supporters’ Shield.
It was an aim denied by a 4-1 Toronto win on the day, a statement game at the end of a dour regular season.
“The message was more for ourselves,” said Vanney, listing three elements Toronto wanted accomplished. “Make their point total a little less; finish what was a really challenging season on a strong note against the team that was picked to win it by everybody; and we wanted to show that we still had the ability to do that.”
When they travel south from Canada to Georgia this week, they expect a frosty reception, especially for US men’s national team veterans Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore. The two were soundly booed on Decision Day at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in 2017 and nobody could forget Sebastian Giovinco’s celebratory sip after scoring that day.
“It’s going to be very, very pro-Atlanta,” said Vanney. “There will be a handful that will do their thing for Michael, or Jozy, or against us, but typically I find them to be pro their team more than anti the other team. I’m sure we’ll get our fair share of it.
“More than anything those environments get you hyper-focused and locked in,” continued the TFC coach. “When you have a big crowd and it’s loud, it helps you understand the value and the importance of the day.”
There is one uncertainty heading into the match.
Veteran center back Omar Gonzalez returned to full training on Sunday, but Altidore’s availability remains murky. The striker received Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) treatment on the weekend, hence the caution.
“He’s taken all the steps that have been put in front of him,” Vanney said of Altidore. “He feels and looks like he is close, so it’s final stages now of getting him ready and having him be a part of the group and play a role.”