Villalba, Gressel score to lead Atlanta past Toronto 2-0

Villalba, Gressel score to lead Atlanta past Toronto 2-0
Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez reacts after a goal against Toronto FC during the first half of an MLS soccer match Wednesday, May 8, 2019, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Mike Zarrilli)

ATLANTA (AP) — Hector Villalba and Julian Gressel scored to lead Atlanta United to its third victory in a row, 2-0 over Toronto FC in a matchup of the last two MLS Cup champions Wednesday night.

After a sluggish start under new coach Frank de Boer, United (4-3-2) suddenly looks like the team that won the league championship last year in just its second season. Atlanta dominated the stat sheet, piling up a 19-8 advantage in shots, knocking two attempts off the post and preventing Toronto from putting any balls on net.

Goalkeeper Brad Guzan extended his scoreless streak to three games without much effort, giving Atlanta its first victory over Toronto FC.

After Josef Martinez was denied on a couple of chances in close, Atlanta broke through in the 17th minute. The play was set up by Ashtone Morgan’s hard foul on Gressel just outside the box, giving United a dangerous free kick. Pity Martinez launched one over the wall, only to have Alex Bono make a brilliant save diving to his left.

But Josef Martinez hustled after the rebound, sending the ball back in front where Villalba flicked it past the keeper for his first goal of the season.

Villalba got a chance to shine, moving into the starting lineup with Ezequiel Barco called away by the Argentina national team for the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Poland. Villalba nearly scored again late in the first half, shifting the ball from one foot to the other to get away from four defenders before banging his shot off the post.

In the 65th, Villalba knocked another one into the net off a pass from Josef Martinez but the play was nullified by an offside penalty. Just 2 minutes later, United struck again with a goal that counted.

Again, it was set up by Martinez, the reigning MLS goals king who spent this night delivering for his teammates. Getting the ball just inside the area, he dumped off a pass to Gressel, who cut inside the deliver a booming left-footed shot that deflected off a defender’s foot and skipped past Bono for the German’s second goal of the season.

Toronto (5-3-1) got so desperate for a scoring chance that Jonathan Osorio took a dive in the area off minimal contact, hoping to draw a penalty kick. Instead, he picked up a yellow card.

Toronto played its fourth straight game without top scorer Jozy Altidore as he recovers from a hamstring injury.


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