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Toronto FC salvages some pride with win over Atlanta in regular-season finale

Toronto FC salvaged some pride on the final day of the MLS regular season Sunday, winning 4-1 to prevent visiting Atlanta United from hoisting the Supporters' Shield.

Toronto FC salvaged some pride on the final day of the MLS regular season Sunday, winning 4-1 to prevent visiting Atlanta United from hoisting the Supporters' Shield.

"It doesn't make up for the season we had but the effort and the execution on the day was very good against a good team," said Toronto coach Greg Vanney. "And so we take that ... as we move into an off-season where we have some time to really get ourselves for a new season and take all the lessons we took from this year to prepare ourselves for next year."

Lucas Jansson scored twice and Sebastian Giovinco added a goal and an assist for Toronto (10-18-6). Marky Delgado also scored for Toronto before a crowd of 23,895 on Fan Appreciation Day.

Josef Martinez, extending his league-record scoring total to 31, scored the lone Atlanta goal. His 77th-minute penalty kick made things interesting by cutting the Toronto lead to 2-1. But late goals by Jansson and Giovinco ended the drama.

Giovinco finished the season with 13 goals and 15 assists. He had five shots on the day, upping his season total to a league-leading 167 (51 of which were on target). Canadian midfielder Jonathan Osorio had an assist to conclude a career campaign with 10 goals and seven assists.

The Atlanta loss, combined with the New York Red Bulls' 1-0 win over lowly Orlando, vaulted the Red Bulls (22-7-5) over Atlanta into first place overall while assuring them of home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

"Disappointing, shocking," said Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan. "We never got started. We were poor everywhere."

"A terrible performance from us in a big game," added defender Michael Parkhurst.

The Red Bulls, who came into Decision Day trailing Atlanta by one point, finished with 71 points — erasing Toronto's single-season league record of 69 set last year. Atlanta finished with 69 points.

The Supporters' Shield trophy, which Toronto won last season, comes with a US$130,000 prize.

Toronto was without star Jozy Altidore and playmaker Victor Vazquez, shut down after undergoing ankle and knee surgery, respectively. Veteran Drew Moor, the linchpin of the Toronto defence, missed his 26th game of the league campaign due to injury.

Atlanta was missing attacking midfield star Miguel Almiron, who is recovering from a hamstring injury.

"We showed some character and came out and outplayed them on a day when they had everything to play for," said Vanney.

So Toronto turns the page on its worst season since 2013, when it went 6-17-11 for 29 points.

It has much to learn — and figure out.

Like how does a team goes from first to 19th in the overall standings in the space of a year? How does a 20-win, 69-point MLS championship campaign spawn a 10-win 36-point season?

How does a team that posted win overs three well-stocked Mexican sides en route to a penalty shootout loss in the CONCACAF Champions League final manage to post back-to-back MLS wins just once — over lowly Chicago.

Losing four of its first five league games (0-4-1) this year while concentrating its resources on the Champions League left Toronto in an early hole. Vanney's team never found its rhythm after that.

The grind of back-to-back long seasons definitely had an effect.

Injuries took their toll especially on the backline — Toronto conceded a franchise-worst 64 goals this season.

But blaming its MLS problems the demands of the Champions League doesn't cut it when the Red Bulls, who made it to the semifinals of the CONCACAF competition, finished 35 points ahead of Toronto.

Toronto never seemed ready — conceding a league-worst 13 goals in the first 15 minutes of matches (it scored just three goals during that period). Combine that with a 1-17-1 record when conceding the first goal and an 0-13-1 mark when trailing at the half and you have a recipe for disaster

Toronto was scored on 15 times in the first 15 minutes of the second half — only Colorado (16) was breached more often over the same time period.

TFC set a high bar last season when it went 20-5-9, setting franchise single-season records for point (69), goals for (74), goals against (37), wins (20), home wins (13), home points (42), road wins (7) and road points (27).

While it defended its Canadian Championship, Toronto's 2018 league campaign was a train wreck.

Atlanta came into the game a remarkable 36 points ahead of Toronto. But TFC looked the better side as the first half wore on, leading 2-0 after 21 minutes on goals by Janson and Delgado.

Atlanta had its chances in the second half but Toronto hung on before adding the late insurance goals. Both teams hit the woodwork and had goals called back in the second half.

Atlanta came into the game having won two straight and seven of nine (7-2-0) since tying Toronto 2-2 on Aug. 4 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Toronto had lost three in a row and gone 3-7-1 since that tie in Atlanta.

Sunday's game was the last on the current grass surface at BMO Field, which is due to be replaced in the off-season. Bucket-wielding groundskeepers roved the field prior to kickoff, looking to fill in bare patches.


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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press