2019 Major League Soccer, Eastern Conference Playoffs - Finals
  • Julian Gressel (4')
  • Nicolas Benezet (14')
  • Nick DeLeon (78')

Toronto FC ousts MLS champs Atlanta to set up Cup rematch with Sounders

Nick DeLeon fired home a cracker late in the second half to give Toronto FC a 2-1 win over defending MLS Cup champs Atlanta United on Wednesday night.

Defending champions Atlanta saw its path to a repeat open wide after Supporters' Shield winners LAFC lost to the Seattle Sounders on Tuesday night in the Western Conference final, but Toronto had other ideas in an entertaining end-to-end Eastern Conference final.

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The home side, playing in front or a raucous crowd at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, was in front inside of five minutes thanks to a quick-hitting counter-attack with Gonzalo Martinez crossing for Julian Gressel to finish into a wide-open net.

Atlanta should have doubled its lead minutes later when Michael Bradley clumsily bundled into Gonzalo Martinez in the penalty area, but Toronto keeper Quentin Westberg did well to stop Josef Martinez's spot kick to keep the score 1-0.

Toronto then scored from a counter-attack of its own as Nicolas Benezet settled a long pass from Laurent Ciman, cut to his right and curled in a lovely strike from outside the penalty area for the equalizer.

The scoring slowed down in the second half, but the action didn't and DeLeon eventually fired Toronto in front with a stellar long-range screamer from five yards outside the box that blew past Brad Guzan in the Atlanta goal.

"Today was about resiliency," Toronto coach Greg Vanney told FS1. "It wasn't beautiful soccer ... Passion, heart, dedication and just making plays.

"A lot of hard work by a lot of guys. A gritty, gritty effort."

It was a bitter ending for Atlanta, which would have host the MLS Cup title game for the second year in a row with a victory. United won the Campeones Cup and the U.S. Open Cup, but the team was aiming for a repeat title -- especially in the final season for captain Michael Parkhurst, who is retiring. The longtime MLS stalwart came up two wins short of another title.

"It was disappointing," Parkhurst told FS1 after the match. "We started the game so well ... Could have made it 2-0. It didn't go our way.

"We were not crisp up front. We needed to quicker, a little more precise in our final-third."

Toronto FC returns to the title game just two seasons after winning it with one of the greatest years in MLS history. The Canadian team slumped badly in 2018, though and missed the playoffs, but now finds itself playing for another championship after two straight impressive road victories.

The result sets up a MLS Cup showdown with Toronto FC away to the Seattle Sounders on Nov. 10 (live at 3 p.m. ET on ABC) with the clubs having met in two of the last three title games and both seeking a second title.