Five Points: Making Memories
New York City FC enjoyed Round One Playoff success on Sunday as they overcame Atlanta United 2-0.
Here are Five Points from a magical afternoon at Yankee Stadium.
One thing that makes a meeting between Atlanta and NYCFC a fascinating watch is their tactical similarities. Both teams are keen to control the ball, and on Sunday that forced the first half to be a cagey affair with both teams trying to assert their dominance.
NYCFC managed to create several good opportunities towards the end of the half, but heading into the second period it was clear the first goal would prove vital. NYCFC have made a habit of starting the second 45 minutes fast, and that was certainly true on Sunday.
To score two goals in such quick succession was equally as important as that stifled any attempt by Atlanta to get back into the game. When NYCFC move into high gear few, if any, teams in MLS can handle them. That trait was central to Sunday's win and will be vital when they face New England Revolution in the Eastern Conference Semifinal.
Control The Middle
When playing a team with the attacking quality of Atlanta United it was imperative that NYCFC struck a balance between going forward and protecting their clean sheet.
At one end of the field Maxi Moralez served as chief conductor of the attack. The veteran playmaker used all of his technical quality and positional intelligence to inhabit pockets of space and cause Atlanta problems. The result of that was key involvements in both NYCFC goals, and a performance that reminded many why Moralez is so highly valued by his teammates.
Further back, Alfredo Morales was using his experience in the Bundesliga and with the United States Men's National Team to exert control in midfield. The 29-year-old was excited to sample the MLS Cup playoffs for the first time in his career, and that showed in his performance.
Working alongside James Sands, the pair offered intensity and aggression off the ball and control on it. That was important in limiting the impact of Atlanta's midfield and stopping Gonzalo Pineda's men from connecting their play from front to back.
There were key battles across the field, none more so than in the middle, and that was one NYCFC won consistently and convincingly and that deserves credit.
Ronny Deila has never taken for granted the role that NYCFC fans play in making games at Yankee Stadium special.
While the team's Head Coach did not want complacency to creep in on Sunday, he did know a home game in the Bronx was an advantage. We've asked you to come out and support, and you've delivered time and again, and it's clear that Sunday left another fond memory in Deila's head.
"The support today is something I'll remember for the rest of my life," he said. "It was really special. Hopefully we can get more moments like this, this season and also in the future. I think everyone enjoyed it."
You have played your part in making the 2021 campaign an eventful and memorable one so far, and to echo Ronny, here's to more happy memories together.
The intensity and pressure applied to an MLS Cup playoff game can often mean that only a few moments define the entire contest.
If the goals of Taty Castellanos and Alex Callens were vital in pushing NYCFC forward, the goalkeeping of Sean Johnson was equally important in holding Atlanta United back. The Club Captain looks at a clean sheet as a team effort, but when called upon he delivered.
The most important of his several key saves came in the second half when a quick transition by Atlanta allowed Marcelino Moreno to feed Josef Martinez. The Venezuelan is one of the league's most dangerous strikers, and had he converted his effort the pendulum could easily have swung back towards the Five Stripes.
Johnson come up big throughout this season, and that dependability is something we should never take for granted. A captain's performance when it was needed, the leader of the group set an admirable standard.
The Kids Are Alright
A central pillar of NYCFC's identity rests in developing young players through the Club's academy.
Ronny Deila has utilized several Homegrown players this season on a regular basis, and on Sunday he turned to James Sands and Tayvon Gray to start the game before introducing Andres Jasson in the final seconds.
This was a first taste of the playoffs for all three men, and while Jasson barely had enough time to impact proceedings both Sands and Gray stood up tall when their team needed them.
Gray's exposure to the starting XI has increased in the wake of the unfortunate injury to Anton Tinnerholm, and on Sunday he showed why he is so highly-regarded by the Club's coaching staff. His strong defensive output helped inhibit Atlanta's attack and reaffirmed the Club's commitment to developing young players.
Further tests will come for Gray, Sands, and Jasson but they can all be pleased with how 2021 has gone for them so far.
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