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

NYCFC struggle to produce chances and lose Leg 1 at home to Atlanta United FC in the MLS Postseason.

Geoffrey Campbell

On a crisp autumn night in the Bronx, the stage was set for a conference semi-final matchup between NYCFC and Atlanta United FC. The latter certainly came into tonight’s game with a better overall season record, but NYCFC was getting hot at just the right time.

In back-to-back wins against, albeit a lesser opponent in the Philadelphia Union, the Bronx Blues found their scoring touch, putting up six goals in two games. On the other side, Atlanta United FC had to be disappointed to put out such a poor effort against Toronto FC in the last game of the season with the Supporter’s Shield on the line.

Both sides with quality in their starting 11, it would likely come down to who could neutralize Atlanta’s top scorer, Josef Martinez or NYCFC’s captain David Villa, who may have played his last game in front of the home crowd with retirement on his mind. But goals aside, the home side were looking for even more of a boost from in-form midfielder Yangel Herrera.

Herrera has proved to be a much-needed spark on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. His effect on the game, not just noticed by his teammates and coaches, even drew the eye of Jim Curtin, head coach of Philadelphia Union. After their most recent loss, Curtin made a point to single-out Herrera, saying that he could play “anywhere” and in “any league”.

Early on both sides were able to move the ball north and south. You could tell it was a playoff atmosphere with yellow cards given to both sides in the first half. Highlights belonged to the defense as Maxime Chanot and Alex Callens played big, stepping in and thwarting most of Atlanta’s attacks.

The first real chance came to Ronald Matarrita. Off a scrum in the 18-yard box, the ball fell to the Costa-Rican international and he put it far wide of the post. With chances few and far between it seems that NYCFC was having some trouble gaining possession against Atlanta’s five-man midfield.

And that possession battle proved to be costly as Miguel Almiron almost put Atlanta up one in the 20th minute. Almiron, off a corner kick, appeared to shank a half-volley off his foot, but the bounce was just enough to get over the outstretched hands of keeper Sean Johnson. But wait just a minute, video replay disallowed the goal due to an offsides infraction which kept the game level.

The action was fairly back and forth for the rest of the half, however, NYCFC’s defense proved they couldn’t hold the dam together for too much longer. A late corner given up in the first half, required a great initial save from Johnson. However, the rebound was scooped up by Eric Remedi and put into the back of the net.

This was a gut punch for NYCFC, who fought hard. But also a sign that better team was indeed on top after the first half. Atlanta was ahead in both, shots taken and possession. The only category where NYCFC had an edge was in passing accuracy.

In the second half, Atlanta substituted Almiron off the field, who was dealing with a hamstring injury, for Hector Villaba. The decision certainly didn’t hurt their defense as Atlanta were very quick to get their players behind the ball whenever they lost possession.

It seemed NYCFC struggled to get their maestro, Maxi Moralez the ball. After the game, Torrent remarked that he wanted Moralez to play more on the wing because he was being tightly-marked in the middle of the field. Moralez struggled to get into the teeth of the defense, and subsequently, the offense sputtered.

With no shots registered on target, Dome Torrent decided to bring on Jo Inge Berget for Ben Sweat in the 62nd minute. But Berget could hardly help his midfielders, who for some reason always took one touch too many or missed that last pass needed to link a chance at goal. Credit Atlanta’s defense, as they held players like Ismael Tajouri-Shradi at bay, who was invisible for most of the match.

As such Tajouri-Shradi was also subbed off for Jesus Medina in a last ditch effort to get the equalizer. But in the end, it wasn’t enough. Atlanta reaped the fruits of their labor as they were a step quicker to loose balls and dominated in most of the midfield possession.

But for all of that, NYCFC was short just one magical moment. We will have to wait and see if the Cityzens can conjure up that moment in Atlanta and save their season.


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