NEW YORK – On Sunday afternoon, New York City FC hosted fifth place Atlanta United at Yankee Stadium for the second matchup of the Eastern Conference MLS Cup playoffs. After a back-and-forth first half, second half goals from 2021 Golden Boot winner Valentín “Taty” Castellanos and Alexander Callens would secure a 2-0 victory, sending NYCFC to the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Second Half Push sends NYCFC to Conference Semifinals
A first half which saw chances created on both sides would have NYCFC produce the only real opportunity of the half as James Sands received the ball outside the box in the 44-minute and lofted a pinpoint ball over the defense to Santiago Rodríguez for an easy finish, quickly judged just offside by the assistant to cancel out the goal.
At the start of the second half it was the Bronx Blues who came out firing with several opportunities in the opening minutes. The constant attack led to a Maxi Moralez cross which found Castellanos at the back post for a tough shot. An awkward bounce saw the ball flying over Brad Guzan’s head and into the far corner with little the keeper could do, 1-0 NYCFC in the 49-minute.
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It didn’t stop there from NYCFC as they continued berating Atlanta’s backline with chances, finding the net just four minutes later to put them up 2-0 in the 53-minute. A shot from Moralez, tipped onto the bar by a diving Guzan left Atlanta’s defense frozen for Callens to sneak behind the backline and find himself with a tap-in header.
Atlanta wouldn’t go down without a fight however, forcing NYCFC keeper Sean Johnson to make a few saves in the closing minutes including a shot from distance in the 83-minute by Matheus Rossetto and an 87-minute save on an Atlanta corner kick which earned the clean sheet.
A second yellow card and subsequent sending off in the 93-minute for Atlanta’s Alan Franco capped the 2-0 win for New York City and sent Yankee Stadium into a frenzy.
Three Key Takeaways:
Keaton Parks will be missed: The season ending injury to Keaton Parks will hurt NYCFC in the playoffs and while it wasn’t as noticable today on a smaller pitch at Yankee Stadium, it will be against a team like New England. Ideally, Nicolás Acevedo would make his return after being listed as out with a lower body injury for this match but expect Alfredo Morales to continue in the XI for the time being.
Taty Castellanos continues his form: Ending the season by winning the Golden Boot award, Castellanos carried his form into the playoffs getting off four shots today and scoring the opening goal for NYCFC. If Castellanos continues to play this way, NYCFC can keep themselves in any game so long as their backline can hold up to the test of MLS Cup Playoffs.
The Yankee Stadium advantage: As mentioned above, New York City’s home pitch is much smaller than your average MLS field which provides a major advantage to NYCFC who’ve surrendered just four goals at Yankee Stadium all season, and it showed today against Atlanta. But with the team set to travel on the road for the second round of playoffs it will be crucial for NYCFC to manage a win away from home and against an incredibly talented New England side.