Toronto FC’s Slam Playoff hopes suffered a major blow in Saturday’s 4-2 loss to Atlanta United with Mexico defender Juan Jose Porta’s unlikely hat trick.
All three goals came as the cherry on top in the 88th minute as Porta doubled their Major League Soccer season’s output in one outing.
Thiago Almada scored in the 74th minute to give Atlanta a 3-2 lead after Toronto had equalized twice. The Argentina international took advantage of Toronto’s defensive support — and captain Michael Bradley throughout the game — before unleashing a shot from the edge of the box that beat Quentin Westberg.
Ayo Akinola and Federico Bernardeschi responded for Toronto.
Atlanta held on for a scoreless first half, denied the lead by Westberg’s penalty save.
Porta put Atalanta ahead in the 47th minute, heading home a Brooks Lennon corner above Lucas McNaughton. The set-piece was inspired by Marc-Anthony Kaye’s gift after a fine Westberg save from Almada.
Akinola tied it in the 52nd minute, scoring TFC’s first goal past goalkeeper Raul Godino. Bradley opened the game with plenty of running before finding substitute Jess Jimenez, who slipped the ball to Akinola for his second of the season.
Porta scored from Lennon’s other corner in the 62nd minute, beating Jimenez after the two teammates headed the ball to one side and the other before finding the Mexican defender.
Porata conceded the penalty, tripping Jimenez after Bernardeschi found the Spaniard inside the penalty box. Cal survived video review and Bernardeschi slotted the ball home in the 67th minute for his eighth goal, including five from the penalty spot in 10 MLS outings.
Westerg made a brilliant save to deny Almada in the 87th minute. Toronto forward Deandre Kerr hits the post in stoppage time.
Coming into the weekend, 10th-place Toronto (9-15-7) was four spots and five points out of the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. And time is running out with just three games left: at Orlando and Philadelphia and at home to Inter Miami.
Atlanta (9-12-9) was one spot and one point behind Toronto.
Toronto was without Italian star Lorenzo Ingen, who missed practice Thursday due to what the team called a “personal family situation.” The club did not elaborate but the issue was so serious that fellow Italian Domenico Cristo left training to “support Lorenzo and his family”.
Insigne, who is married with two children, was nervous in early August as Toronto prepared to return home from a 4-3 win in Nashville. News of a “family health situation” after the team boarded its charter prompted TFC to delay the flight so the Italian could get more information. The former Napoli captain later withdrew from the MLS All-Star Skills Competition in Minneapolis but returned to training later in the week.
Heading into the weekend, Bernardeschi (seven goals and three assists), Ansegen (six goals and two assists) and Cristo (one goal) had been involved in 17 of Toronto’s last 20 goals in MLS action, including 11 of the last 12.
Atalanta star striker Joseph Martinez was missing, suspended for one game after being reported to the locker room after coach Gonzalo Pineda’s 2-1 loss at Portland. Former TFC forward Dom Dwyer started up front for Atlanta.
It was largely one-way traffic for the home side in the first half. Atlanta had 11 shots (including three on goal) before Toronto’s first attempt.
Bernadesse earned a penalty for Toronto in the 34th minute after his shot hit Amar Sejdik. The former Montreal midfielder had little choice in the matter, unable to get out of the way, and referee Rosendo Mendoza went to the pitchside monitor on the advice of Canadian VAR official Carol Ann Chenard.
Mendoza changed his mind on review, took the penalty.
Westberg, making his first start since July 13, stopped a Luis Arajo penalty in the 12th minute, shooting to his left for the save. Shane O’Neill brought down Lennon, prompting Mendoza to point to the penalty spot. Atlanta’s offense started with a Jayden Nelson layup.
Westberg also saved a penalty — off Martinez — in the 2019 Eastern Conference Finals at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, a 2-1 win by Toronto. It marked TFC’s only previous win in Atlanta. Toronto had lost its previous five regular season games (0-3-2).
Kai, who last saw 45 minutes off the bench after a seven-game injury absence, started in TFC’s midfield. McNaughton replaces the injured Chris Mawenga.
Westberg is making his seventh league start of the season over 24 for Alex Bono, who was under the gun last time. Coach Bob Bradley asked after last weekend’s 4-3 loss to visiting CF Montreal if his team was getting the kind of goaltending it needed. “Not on that last part,” was his enthusiastic response.
Araujo tested Westberg with a long shot in the second minute after bouncing off a defender. Six minutes later, Atlanta full-back Andrew Guttman broke into the box, two TFC players danced around and, after a give-and-go with Dwyer, skied his shot.
O’Neill blocked Arajo’s 25th-minute shot in front of goal as Atalanta turned the tide. And Westberg had to be quick to beat the Brazilian winger’s hard shot in the 33rd minute.
Jimenez and Jahkiel Marshall Rotti replaced Noble Okello and Cristo to start the second half for Toronto. Jimenez had a chance to equalize for Toronto right after Atalanta’s goal but he denied Richie Laria’s cross just wide of the post.
Atalanta made an unsuccessful appeal for a penalty in the 60th minute after Laria Almada was brought down in the box.
Toronto, which was also missing midfielder Jonathan Osorio, suffered two disappointing home results: a 4-3 loss to CF Montreal and a 2-2 draw with Los Angeles Galaxy.
TFC led 2-0 after just seven minutes last weekend, only to concede four straight Montreal goals. And Toronto took a 2-1 lead earlier in the game, after conceding an 89th-minute goal to hold the Galaxy to a draw.
Toronto had lost just one of seven games (4-1-2) before the Galaxy vs. Montreal games, a run that coincided with the arrivals of Bernardeschi and Insgene.
Atlanta has won just two of its last 10 league games (2-4-4) and is coming off road losses at Philadelphia (4-1) and Portland. It hasn’t lost three straight since October 2020, a run that includes defeat at the hands of TFC.