April 18th, 2024

Atlanta United, Toronto FC both missing important pieces ahead of BMO Field meeting

By Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press on March 22, 2024.

With captain Jonathan Osorio prevented from joining Canada due to a hip injury, Toronto FC has only lost Honduran midfielder Deybi Flores to national team duty during the current FIFA international window. Flores, centre, plays during an MLS soccer match against FC Cincinnati, in Cincinnati, Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jeff Dean

TORONTO – Atlanta United and Toronto FC will both be missing some important pieces at BMO Field on Saturday, but for different reasons.

Atlanta (2-1-0) arrives down six internationals, including designated players Giorgos Giakoumakis and Thiago Almada.

Toronto (2-1-1) only has Honduran midfielder Deybi Flores away on international duty. But its injury list remains problematic with goalkeeper Sean Johnson, defenders Richie Laryea, Nicksoen Gomis and Raoul Petretta and midfielder Brandon Servania dealing with injuries.

Still, Toronto coach John Herdman chose to see the glass half-full.

“It’s looking promising because we haven’t had any more wounded this week, which is good news,” he said after training Friday.

“I think it will be a game where it’ll be more open for both teams, as opposed to one team maybe having a more dominant posture because of the quality that they had,” he added. “For us, we’ve got (Federico) Bernardeschi and (Lorenzo) Insigne still. That’s probably the difference between the two teams, I’m hoping.”

And on the plus side, captain Jonathan Osorio may be able to see some minutes despite a hip injury that prevented him from joining Canada for Saturday’s Copa America qualifier against Trinidad and Tobago in Frisco, Texas.

“He’s had a real positive response the last two days,” said Herdman. “So he’ll be tested in the morning. And that might put him on the bench for us.”

With snow falling Friday, Toronto practised under the bubble at its training centre. The snow is expected to subside in the morning but the forecast calls for -3 C Saturday evening, feeling like -9.

“Don’t forget to pack your sunscreen and swim trunks,” the TFC social media team tweeted cheekily at Atlanta, where the forecast calls for a high of 19 C and rain Saturday.

Atlanta lost its season opener 1-0 at Columbus before rebounding to post home wins over New England (4-1) and Orlando (2-0). Greece’s Giakoumakis accounted for four of the five goals in those wins and is tied for the league lead in goals with Miami’s Luis Suarez and Dejan Joveljic of the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Giakoumakis has been a goal machine since signing with Atlanta in February 2023. With 21 goals in 20 league games, the former Celtic forward need just one more goal to pass Miguel Almirón (21 goals in 62 games) and Héctor Villalba (21 goals in 82 games) and move into sole possession of second place on Atlanta’s all-time list.

Only Josef Martinez, now a member of CF Montreal, scored more goals for Atlanta with 98.

Almada is away with the Argentine under-23 team. He captained the side during South American Olympic qualifying helping Argentina to an Olympic berth while finishing joint top-scorer with five goals in seven matches.

The 22-year-old has also made four appearances with the Argentine senior side and was part of the squad that won the 2022 World Cup.

Also missing for Atlanta are defenders Luis Abram (Peru) and Caleb Wiley (U.S. under-23 team) and midfielders Jay Fortune (Trinidad and Tobago) and Bartosz Slisz (Poland).

Atlanta signed defender Matt Edwards to a short-term agreement for Saturday’s game to help make up the numbers. The 21-year-old Edwards joined Atlanta United 2 in December after three seasons at the University of North Carolina.

Herdman, who has been on both sides of the equation thanks to his time as Canada coach, shakes his head at MLS playing through FIFA international windows.

“It’s crazy,” said Herdman. “As an international coach it used to drive us nuts. Because you’d be getting the phone call inevitably ‘Can this guy come back early?’ ‘Can this guy just play one game?’ And you only see players for two matches in a three-month period. You’re trying to build chemistry, give people opportunity.

“It’s a tough one. Atlanta should be coming here with Almada and their top players. It’s what we want to see. It’s what the fans want to see. It’s disappointing. But given our walking wounded this week, it’s worked out for us”

Toronto is coming off a 2-1 loss at New York City FC, a game somewhat overshadowed by TFCs growing injury list.

There was more bad news on that front this week as the club revealed that Laryea is scheduled to undergo hamstring surgery Saturday in London, England, and is expected to be sidelined for three months.

“Everyone in the club is gutted,” said Herdman.

Toronto, which is 4-4-6 all-time against Atlanta, announced Friday that defender Luke Singh will spend a third season on loan in the Canadian Premier League and second straight with Atletico Ottawa.

Follow @NeilMDavidson on X platform, formerly known as Twitter

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 22, 2024.

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