The Man in Seat 9: NYCFC vs Atlanta United — A Rivalry of Equals

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EDITORIALThere are two types of rivalries in sport. A rivalry of severe dislike, and a rivalry of equals. The first type is built on abject hatred and is usually geographically based. It is passed from generation to generation. It is eternal and unwavering.

It doesn’t matter where either of the two teams is in the standings. It doesn’t matter who the other team is playing. It doesn’t matter if their win helps your team. All that matters is that your team beats the rival team or the rival team loses if they are playing another opponent. Your rival is your enemy.

The second type is a rivalry of equals. It is a rivalry based on mutual respect. The team can change season to season. It is the opponent you know that you have to beat if you want to claim the title of the best. You respect them. If the opponent is an individual, you probably like them. You can understand why their fans support them. This is a warrior rival. Last night, in Atlanta, the Five Stripes became our warrior rival.

The Man In Seat 9: NYCFC vs Atlanta United – A Rivalry of Equals

New York City FC traveled to the Mercedes Benz Stadium to take on Atlanta United FC to settle the early season question of which team is the Beast of the East. Knowing that this is one of the toughest venues in MLS, the traveling faithful flocked south to represent the Boys in Blue loud and proud. Many times “Come On New York” could be heard behind the play-by-play on Fox Sports 1.

This matched was hyped to be THE match to watch this weekend, and it did not disappoint. This was one of those matches where you feel a tightness in your stomach as you watch. You knew it was going to be a heavyweight bout. You knew both teams would come out battered and bruised.

When the final whistle blew, the Man in Seat 9 collapsed in his seat, spent. It was 90+ minutes of high octane football. Although having different strategies, both teams play a very European style. And they play it well. This match and these two clubs provide a great demonstration of the quality of play of which MLS is capable. With the intensity, back and forth play, and speed of play, the Man in Seat 9 would argue, that this even ending in a tie, and not the LA Galaxy / LAFC match, was one of the best MLS matches to date. To those who traveled to see it in person, you witnessed something special.

Home Pitch Advantage Neutralized

NYCFC entered Atlanta at a disadvantage. A short turn around from a mid-week match against Real Salt Lake would give them a fitness test. Easily dominating RSL earlier in the week could easily dull their mental preparation. And the venue itself — with forty-thousand passionate supporters, a pitch constructed of an extremely fast field turf, and a talented side that is earning the identifier of a buzz saw — would all conspire to create a constant assault on the senses. And the Boys in Blue overcame it all to win a deserved point on the road.

The match was beautiful at times, sloppy at times, and contained all of the elements that great football matches provide. The highs, the lows, and the drama. It was the type of match that reminded you of why you love this beautiful game.

Sean Johnson and the Most Important Play

The Man in Seat 9 couldn’t find any clips on the highlight reels, which is a shame, because Sean Johnson made what was probably the most important play of the match. Late in the second half, Atlanta’s offense started a barrage that would almost push the defense to the breaking point. Wave after wave of attack kept NYCFC pinned inside the eighteen.

Every clearance was picked up ten yards inside the half and brought back in for another wave. On what would be the last of this barrage, with an exhausted side, Atlanta made a cross from the right into the middle of the box. This would be the reward for their constant attack and would give them the win. There were bodies in the box ready to strike it home. Instead of preparing for the shot, Johnson left his line, a flash of orange diving head first perpendicular to the goal directly into the fray, his outstretched hand grabbing the ball to end the assault. It was one of the best plays a keeper made all week.

Respect Amongst Supporters

I have to give a shout out here to the supporters for both sides. Maybe it’s because it’s the south. Maybe it’s because of the type of rivalry. Maybe it’s because of the venue. But both sides supporters were complimenting each other well into the night on social media. Atlanta SC members complimented the traveling New York supporters for being the loudest away section they have experienced. New York supporters complemented Atlanta United’s on the impressive unity of 40K chanting in unison. There were even reports of scarves being traded. It will be interesting to host those who make the trip north on June 9th.

A sampling:

Bobb Caligiuri @ATLBobb, tweeted: @ThirdRailSC Pleasure to briefly meet with a few of you after the match. ? Thanx for coming down to the ?, we’ll see you in the big ?! #Respect #ForTheLoveOfTheGame @ATLUTD @NYCFC #ATLUTD #NYCFC #MLS @MLS6:25 PM – 15 Apr 2018

Alan VanKirk @arvankirk, tweeted:  @Latcons78 @DougRobersonAJC @Longshoe
Our season tickets are in 230 (right next to the away team supports section) and I can tell you, you guys were the loudest most active away fans we’ve seen! Props to you guys and great match by the 2 top @MLS teams!
5:11 AM – 16 Apr 2018

The Match GBU

The Good

  • That we have the depth to start a match this important with Villa in reserve. This is good for the future.
  • Good defensive work in the midfield.
  • Sean Johnson just taking the obstruction that VAR picked up on without histrionics.
  • Alexander Ring scoring his first MLS goal in remarkable fashion. Golazo!
  • Defensive heart. NYCFC got pummeled in the last ten minutes. Again bent but did not break.
  • The supporters of both sides.

The Bad

  • The defense got a bit frazzled, especially in the final third. Lost a bit of composure.
  • Losing second balls.
  • Allowing Atlanta to have always a person open in near the play to pick up those missed second balls.

The Ugly

Stadium Update

There were a few images of a full resolution rendering that hit Instagram on Friday afternoon. Some say these were leaked by the front office. The Man in Seat 9 reached out to the team for a comment, and again, no response. There is no new information to report.

Until next week in Portland.


The Man in Seat 9

Photo Credit: Apr 15, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; New York City midfielder Alexander Ring (8) celebrates his goal in the second half against Atlanta United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports