Toronto FC

Excitement grows as Reds kick off five-game home stand vs. Atlanta

The five-game home stand at BMO Field continues on Saturday evening when Toronto FC welcomes Atlanta United to town.

It began on Wednesday with a 4-0 thrashing of CF Montreal in the semifinal of the Canadian Championship, sealing a spot in the final and a chance at another Voyageurs Cup.

After two abnormal seasons, TFC are enjoying these summer nights at their home ground.

“There's not enough positive things to say about these BMO nights,” said Quentin Westberg on Friday. “Especially when you're on the winning side and you have that feeling that you play well, that you're supported, you're on that wave.”

“It's special,” he continued. “Never take for granted a BMO night: the support of the fans; you feel like you're overwhelming for the opponents; you feel at home. You feel like a superhero in there.”

Four goals against the rivals and a clean sheet is the perfect way to kick off a crucial stretch as the MLS summer grind begins.

“Guys felt very good about the result, creating a lot of chances,” said Bob Bradley. “Before we did the video part of Atlanta today, we covered a few things from the game that reinforce ideas that we continue to work on that are important for every game, so important for Atlanta.”

“That part's good,” he added. “It's been a resilient group all year, they have a good way when they show up every day and we try to build on that.”

Those raw factors – clean sheets, goals – are important, no doubt, but they’re just elements of the whole.

“It's good for everyone, but it's more the quality of play,” highlighted Westberg. “We were able to have more control, especially in the second half. We combined really well and that led to scoring quite a bit and not giving up any goals. That's the real good feeling.”

“A clean sheet is not mine, a goal is not whoever scores only, it’s the team effort. We were coherent and that’s where the true satisfaction lies,” he continued. “Of course, the clean sheet felt good for everyone, but scoring four goals felt even better.”

With the next four league matches at home with the visits of Atlanta, the Columbus Crew, Seattle Sounders FC, and the San Jose Earthquakes over the next two weeks Toronto are looking to make the most of it.

“It's great, but it doesn't make it easier,” cautioned Westberg. “We're grateful, all things considered over the past two years, to have our first real summer at BMO Field in front of our crowd and with some sense of normality.”

“To be able to have a few and keep building, keeping up with these positive results, this positive mindset that we have,” he urged. “It's important to keep building.”

One win over Montreal does not a summer make. It’s not that a switch flips, the job is not done, the work continues.

“We've been consistent in our work, sticking to it. It doesn't happen overnight and it's not because you train well on the Tuesday that on the Wednesday you're going to get a clean sheet and four goals,” reminded Westberg. “It's the consistency and discipline and everything else, the creativity, and then everything clicking on the right day. We knew we had the ingredients, we just had to display it.”

A few hours after training in another part of town, the team received another boost with the arrival of Lorenzo Insigne.

“We want to become a really good team,” reiterated Bradley. “There's different parts to the work: there's the everyday part with a group of players you have, trying to see if guys can improve, understand the game better, get the team to have a clearer idea of what it wants to be like, what it wants to be about every time it steps on the field.”

“But then there's a major part that goes with that, which is how you continue to build a roster,” he continued. “We've been excited knowing that Lorenzo was going to join us in the summer window and so to know that pretty soon he'll be on the field in training. When great players join teams, you can see immediately how the level of training starts to go up. When players are capable of seeing little things faster than other players, making special plays, that's an important part of how a team improves and moves itself forward.”

“Looking forward to that,” Bradley anticipated. “And seeing how we can put all the pieces together and become a better team.”

Insigne was introduced to the city outside Café Diplomatico on College Street and given a rapturous reception.

“In Little Italy it'll be wild. People are really excited,” said Bradley. “He's such a personable guy. The way he plays, his personality comes out on the field. Napoli is such a people's club and he's a hero there and so when you've been at Napoli and you've played at that level that means so much to everybody. I expect today's going to be fantastic.”

It was.

He will not be available quite yet – the secondary transfer window does not open until July 7, but just knowing that that day is fast approaching is a lift that TFC will carry into this upcoming series of fixtures.

The rest of the season begins on Saturday with Atlanta United. 

In his first full season in charge, Gonzalo Pineda has restored some of the mojo that saw the Five Stripes join the league and instantly become one of the premier sides in MLS.

A series of devastating injuries – to defender Miles Robinson and goalkeeper Brad Guzan – have been setbacks, but they are trending in the right direction, losing just one of their last five matches with wins at home over the Chicago Fire and Inter Miami CF and draws at home to the New England Revolution and away to Nashville SC. Their only loss since the start of May came at the hands of Columbus, 2-1 in Atlanta.

“Atlanta has a group of skillful players,” said Bradley. “They move the ball well. They've got some creativity in the way they attack. I know Josef [Martínez], when he's on the field, is all about goals. He's got a mentality of getting in the box and get on the end of plays. When he's healthy, he's one of the best on the best players in the league.”

“Those are things that you just have to be aware of,” he continued. “The guys here, most of them have had experience playing against Atlanta, so they know. We look forward to a big match.”

Martínez has not quite regained his MVP form following a series of knee issues, but with three goals and three assists in seven appearances, the Venezuelan is still a key contributor and the heart beat of the club.

Mexican forward Ronaldo Cisneros leads the side with four goals, while Argentine midfielder Marcelino Moreno tops the assist column with five through 14 matches.

TFC has had some epic tilts with Atlanta over the years. Atlanta are unbeaten in the last three, but Toronto won the three before that, including the 2019 Eastern Conference Final, a game in which Westberg was a key figure, denying an early penalty kick to give Toronto a lifeline.

“They're very much led by Martínez, who's one of the best strikers in the league. They have Luis [Araújo], who I've seen play quite a bit in France, following the French league – he's a really good player and they have a lot of creativity. Moreno is old school number 10, really good in between lines with great feet,” listed Westberg. “They have this vibe to the club, great arena, great stadium that pushes them, so it's a fun club. It's a fun team to play against and it's a fun style of play to go against and get tested against. A tough opponent, but we're up for it.”