By Keira Smith // @keiramunsmith
It’s deja-vu all over again as New York City Football Club tops Philadelphia Union 3-1 for the second time in a week, this time in the MLS Playoff Knockout Round.
From the beginning, NYCFC dominated the Union, sticking to their high possession strategy which was lighter and more precise with the return of midfielder Yangel Herrera. Herrera’s ability to anticipate opponents’ next moves and superb skills in transitioning between defense and offense allowed David Villa, Maxi Moralez and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi to work smoothly together.
All three goals were scored on attacks down the middle with three different types of finishing touches by Tajouri-Shradi, Villa and Moralez. Additionally, a late substitution of Valentin (Taty) Castellanos for Villa was strategically very important in maintaining the win as Castellanos drew two, sometimes three defenders which freed up Moralez to maneuver and keep NYC in possession of the ball.
This was a huge win and a morale lifter for NYCFC and its fans as we look ahead to face Atlanta United in the MLS Eastern Conference semi-finals. New York City has been gaining momentum and confidence after a dismal two months and Atlanta is showing some cracks in its previously impenetrable foundation. Atlanta is now in a situation familiar to NYCFC with its coach Tata Martino rumored to be leaving the club for “greener” pastures, as well as, player personal conduct and team chemistry distractions.
In the past two years, the two teams have been evenly matched with each team credited one win, one loss and two draws. New York City is back to full strength with a clean bill of health and will face an Atlanta squad who will be close to full strength, especially if midfielder Miguel Almirón returns to match play. (Almirón returned to training this week.)
I predict Atlanta will utilize a 4-4-2 formation with Brad Guzan, a returning from injury Greg Garza, Leandro González-Pirez, Michael Parkhurst and Franco Escobar as defenders, center defending midfielder Jeff Larentowicz, center attacking midfielder Almirón, Ezequiel Barco and Darlington Nagbe on the wings and both Hector Villalba and Josef Martinez up top.
For New York City, I see coach Dome Torrent sticking with a similar lineup and formation as the last two matches with the exception of perhaps starting Jesús Medina at left midfield over Ronald Matarrita as Medina’s style of play may be a better matchup against Atlanta’s tactics. The past two matchups utilized a 4-2-3-1 with Sean Johnson, Ben Sweat, Alexander Callens, Maxime Chanot, Anton Tinnerholm, Herrera, Alex Ring, Medina, Moralez, Tajouri-Shradi and Villa.
Make no mistake about it, this will be an extremely tough match for City, especially after Atlanta’s recent embarrassing loss to Toronto FC which cost them the Supporter’s Shield. They will be out to prove to everyone that the recent loss was a fluke. However, I have no doubt that our Boys in Blue are in fine form and are capable of taking a big decisive win and sowing more seeds of doubt for Atlanta.
Images by Tisha Gale
Featured image: @TishaGale
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