Defending MLS champions Atlanta United welcome Toronto FC to Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Thursday after both sides made it through to the Eastern Conference Final.

Atlanta and Toronto, both home to UCFB global study hubs, came through difficult tests this week in their respective semi-finals to ensure that Thursday’s meeting is a battle between the last two MLS Cup winners.

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Goals from Julian Gressel and Josef Martínez gave Atlanta a 2-0 home win against Philadelphia Union, while two goals from Alejandro Pozuelo, including a last-minute panenka penalty, saw Toronto secure a 2-1 victory at Yankee Stadium against the hotly tipped New York City FC.

Breaking records

One of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s main tenants, Atlanta United FC are managed by Dutch legend Frank de Boer, and led off the field by former Tottenham Hotspur director Darren Eales. Winning their first MLS Cup in 2018 just four years after they were founded, the club also set the record MLS attendance numerous times in this period, currently standing at 73,000.

Commenting on Atlanta’s rapid rise within the MLS, Tim Newton, UCFB graduate and now Merchandise Operations Manager at EDP Soccer in the US, said: "I think it says a lot that within four years of being founded Atlanta United had broken the record for biggest fee received for an MLS player with Almiron heading to Newcastle after winning the MLS Cup in 2018. It was also obviously shrewd business from within the boardroom considering he cost less than $10 million and they sold him for over $20 million, and they must have recruited well to get back into the playoff final the following year."

Forward-thinking ownership

The 2017 MLS champions Toronto FC are also enjoying continued success on and off the pitch with owners Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE) regarded as one of the most forward-thinking sports and entertainment holding companies in the world. They count Toronto’s four major sports franchises - Toronto FC and Argonauts (Canadian Football) at BMO Field, and Toronto Raptors (NBA) and Maple Leafs (NHL) at Scotiabank Arena - within their ownership, as well as either owning or operating the city’s main sports and entertainment venues.

Jonathan Morville, League and Customer Relationship Manager at EDP Soccer in the USA, said: "Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment are building an empire. They not only influence the soccer market but also the whole sports market. I think this is an extremely forward-thinking and innovative approach to sports management. One which has shown clear success in recent years with Raptors (basketball) winning a national championship this year, Maple Leafs (ice hockey) starting off on a strong foot to the season and Toronto FC qualifying for the play offs."

From the 2019/20 academic year, each UCFB global study hub will host an annual Global Sports Summit, bringing together UCFB students, alumni and leading sports industry professionals in some of the most advanced sports and entertainment venues in the world. Find out more about our global hubs and summits here