David Villa
(Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

NYCFC beat the Philadelphia Union for the second time in a week. They advance and face Atlanta FC on Sunday.

Geoffrey Campbell

  • New York City FC 3 (1-0)
  • Philadelphia Union 1 (0-1)
  • MLS Playoffs, East, Knockout, Final, Box Score
  • Yankee Stadium, Bronx, New York

The last time the Bronx hosted a playoff game, the Boston Red Sox were seen celebrating a trip to the American League Championships series at Yankee Stadium. This time around, NYCFC was poised to make sure that their fans would not suffer the same fate.

The Bronx Blues were fresh off a decisive 3-1 win versus the same Philadelphia Union team that finished sixth in the Eastern Conference. The Cityzens, with goals from David Villa and Maxime Chanot, were looking to continue the surprising momentum for a team with just two wins from their last ten games.

With some slight changes from the squad that won at home last Sunday, Dome Torrent might’ve just found his best starting 11. Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, who has been surprisingly on the bench recently, found his way back to the attacking front three. The swiss-army knife Ronald Mattarita was selected to the midfield, a role where had seen recent success.

Tajouri-Shradi was chosen in favor of Jesus Medina. And despite his status as a designated player, Medina does not possess the speed of Tajouri-Shradi or ability to put pressure on the defense from the wing position. Tajouri-Shradi is also second on the team in goals scored with 11 for the season.

NYCFC started with good possession and discipline in their shape. Yangel Herrera was ever-present, intercepting balls and linking up play. Yet, the first highlight in the game came from a beautiful set up started by Maxi Moralez.

Moralez sent a pass that was let on by David Villa and eventually finished by Tajouri-Shradi with a nice half-volley. Tajouri-Shradi wasted no time paying back his manager for the starting nod. Minutes later, keeper Sean Johnson had to be up to his wits as he stopped a breakaway that could’ve tied the game.

And the home side wasn’t done yet. Moralez, again at the scene of the crime, set up the captain Villa for a precision strike into the corner of the net. The Union looked stunned.

A step slow for most of the first half, their attacks were disorganized and their defense wasn’t much better. But give the Bronx Blues credit, they came out with energy and capitalized on the Union’s mistakes.

Throughout the first half, Moralez was a man on a mission. Hounding and tracking every ball and drawing fouls, he was equal parts the maestro on the offensive end and snarling pit bull on the defensive end. NYCFC’s iron man was everything his supporters needed him to be and more.

NYCFC finished the half up two goals and with advantages in possession, shots, and passing accuracy.

In the second half, the Cityzens continued their impressive ball movement, switching fields with ease. Both wing-backs involved in the attack, pressing for a third goal. The Union, for their part, did not give in. And during the 57th minute, Johnson was once again called into action as he saved a low shot from Corey Burke.

New York City FC
(Photo by Ira L. Black/Corbis via Getty Images)

In defense, Chanot was on Burke’s case all night. And while he doesn’t have the pace to keep up with Burke, Chanot was crafty enough trying to keep the striker off the scoresheet. Anton Tinnerholm was also his normal self. Stepping in and intercepting passes, the Swedish international was up to the task all night long.

The nail in the coffin finally came in the 77th minute. Tinnerholm sent a long ball towards Moralez who was making his run down the middle of the field. The “Spider” chipped the ball over Union keeper Andre Blake and sent the home crowd into a frenzy. Moralez put the finishing touches on a superb overall individual performance and sealed his side’s victory and advancement into the second round of MLS playoffs.

But as luck would have it, the Union got a goal back and Burke was the culprit. Some lazy defending from both Ben Sweat and Tinnerholm ended up breaking up the clean sheet. Johnson certainly wasn’t happy and he let his defense hear it.

Moralez could’ve easily had a second goal but his chip went just wide. And after five minutes of extra time, the whistle sounded and NYCFC was officially into the second round of MLS playoffs.

NYCFC now wait to host Atlanta FC this coming Sunday. This season the two sides played to two draws in April and June. The Bronx Blues’ defense will look to pay special attention to MLS’s top scorer Josef Martinez as well as Atlanta FC’s top assist man Miguel Almiron.

At the end of his press conference, Torrent made a strong plea to have the supporters out in full force for Sunday’s game. He told the press, “We’re better when they’re there.” There’s no doubt that a Halloween night might’ve kept most families away from the stadium, but a Sunday game will likely have a different result. Let’s hope that the players keep up their end of the bargain.


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