August 3, 2018 / 3:35 PM / in 3 months

Defending champion Toronto visits MLS-leading Atlanta

Major League Soccer’s big week in Atlanta will continue Saturday when the post-All-Star Game schedule kicks off with an Eastern Conference matchup between Atlanta United and Toronto FC.

FILE PHOTO: Aug 1, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; MLS forward Josef Martinez (17) waves to the crowd after the 2018 MLS All Star Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Three days after the MLS All-Stars played to a 1-1 tie against Juventus, the seven-time defending Serie A champion, Mercedes-Benz Stadium is expected to show a similarly intense atmosphere Saturday. Juventus topped the MLS All-Stars on penalty kicks, 5-3.

Atlanta United (14-4-5, 47 points) is the Supporters’ Shield leader, while defending MLS champion Toronto FC (6-11-4, 22 points) is starting to rebound from a disappointing start to the season.

Atlanta’s Josef Martinez has scored 24 goals in the team’s first 23 games and needs three more to match the MLS record for a single season. The team’s 48 total goals scored lead MLS.

“There’s nothing else to do when a player performs like that,” Atlanta United coach Tata Martino said, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We just pray it lasts the entire season. When a goal scorer is performing at such a high level, you just have to let him be.”

Atlanta FC is closing in on Toronto’s record of 69 points, set last season, and has the mark well within its sights with 11 matches remaining.

Although Toronto played without Jozy Altidore for most of the season, the proficient striker is back and once again doing what he does best. Altidore scored in a 3-0 victory at Chicago on Saturday, his first goal since March. Altidore had surgery in May to remove bone fragments in his foot.

The Reds have won two consecutive MLS matches for the first time this season, but they remain six points out of the last playoff berth in defense of their title. They have 13 games remaining to make up the deficit.

“I don’t think we want to be in a position where we’re trying to rely too heavily on the result of everyone else,” Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney said, according to the Toronto Star. “We need to take care of our business, and if we do so, then I think we’re OK.”

—Field Level Media

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