For the first time in their young history, New York City FC is at the big feast called the Audi MLS Playoffs. However, there’s a big difference between standing by the table and sitting at the table.
- New York City FC (14-9-9, 51 pts)
- D.C. United (10-13-9, 43 pts)
- MLS, Sunday, Oct. 16, 3 p.m. ET
- RFK Stadium
However, the task is far from done.
With just two matches left in the regular season (at D.C. United, 10/16; vs. Columbus Crew, 10/23) NYCFC has a chance to finish with one of the top two seeds in the Eastern Conference. Again, a vast difference from the inaugural nightmare that haunted the club last year.
“Now we are focusing, we want more,” said NYCFC forward Tony Taylor after the Celestes’ 2-0 win at the Houston Dynamo just before this recent international break. “We want to win every game left and win the cup.”
The top two seeds in each conference receive a first-round bye, meaning they get to skip the one-game knockout round that the No. 3-6 seeds play. The top two seeds play the winners of those knockout round matches – as of now, NYCFC would play the highest remaining seed in a two-legged semifinal scored on aggregate.
Although everyone is excited and anxious about the club’s first trip into the postseason, everyone must realize the importance of finishing as one of the top two seeds and not falling into a third, or even fourth seed for the postseason.
The main reason? This team cannot be trusted in a one-game, win-or-go-home playoff match.
Sorry, but not sorry.
NYCFC is winless in two one-game knockout matches against the New York Cosmos in U.S. Open Cup play, two games of which they should’ve won even without their designated players. That might not sound like a lot, however, there is something to be said about a lack of clutch in must or should win matches.
Also, anything can happen in a one-game knockout. For a first-time playoff side that isn’t promising.
But in a two-legged semifinal, NYCFC has a fair chance to advance to the conference finals with room for some error. This part, for a new team making their playoff debut, is key. It takes off some of the pressure of having to play perfectly and allows New York City to simply play their game. It also allows head coach Patrick Vieira to make any necessary adjustments after the first leg on the road if he sees fit.
NYCFC can also take full advantage of having a week off before their conference semifinal if they finish in the top two. The extra week off could give them a chance to get both Steven Mendoza and Frank Lampard healthy and ready for the playoffs while getting the others some extra rest. Again, proceed into this with caution.
In three MLS matches after international BYEs – one being the beginning of this summer’s Copa America Centenario tournament – NYCFC is 1-1-1 – the lone win coming on June 18 against the Philadelphia Union which sparked a four-match win streak, highlighted by a 2-0 win over the Red Bulls at home. However, the last time this team came off an international bye week, they lost 3-1 at the New England Revolution on September 10.
Again, anything is possible come playoff time. NYCFC could fall to the No. 3 or 4 seed in the East and go on a solid playoff run, or they can clinch one of the top two seeds and get swept in both conference semifinal matches. Again, the latter plays more into NYCFC’s favor.
New York City currently has a lot working in their favor. Captain David Villa has seemed to find another gear while scoring goals again as he’s tied with the Red Bulls’ Bradley Wright-Phillips in the race for the Golden Boot for the league lead in goals (21), they seemed to have found some sort of identity and consistency and the subs have been productive when their number is called. NYCFC leads the league in scoring with 57 goals going into Sunday’s match at D.C. United.
At the same time, their backline continues to be an issue as NYCFC has allowed the third-most goals in the league with 53. Those 53 goals are also the most allowed by any playoff team in MLS.
Sometimes more is better. In NYCFC’s case, two games are better than one.
In the playoffs, NYCFC is going to have that “my bad” moment and will want a chance to make up for it at home just a few days later. It will come in handy.