New York City FC travels to Atlanta for a huge Eastern Conference semifinal second leg.
Trailing 1-0 from the home leg, here are the Major Keys to the Match for the Boys in Blue, presented by Tri-State Ford…
While NYCFC would’ve hoped to have been taking an advantage to the Mercedes Benz Stadium with them on Sunday, it’s only 1-0 and City have shown they can score the requisite numbers of goals in this building on their only previous visit.
David Villa and Alex Ring both netted in the 2-2 draw there earlier in the Regular Season and, while that result wouldn’t be enough to secure a place in the Conference final, NYC are unquestionably still very much in this tie.
A 1-0 win takes us to extratime, while a 2-1 win secures our passage in 90’… when you consider there hasn’t been much to choose between these teams in the five previous meetings, it’s definitely not inconceivable that NYC could get the result they need in this crucial second leg.
In 2018, we’ve had multi-goal road games eight times, which is as many as any previous season, so there are reasons to believe.
Stick or Twist
Dome Torrent kept unchanged lineups through the last three back-to-back home games but will he stick or twist for this second leg?
With a fully-fit squad (sans Cedric Hountondji, season-ending), Torrent has numerous options for this one and could look to alter both personnel and system as he seeks to gain a foothold in the tie.
Jo Inge Berget and Jesus Medina both came on in the first leg and helped NYCFC take more control of the match, freeing up David Villa to take more of an influential role after the interval.
Away from home at a place where Atlanta are unbeaten in 10, what will be up Dome’s sleeve from the start here? We’ll know at approximately 4.30pm on Sunday afternoon.
Atlanta had plans for Maxi Moralez in the first leg, with the Argentine playmaker largely marked out of the game, by both fair and foul means.
Moralez was fouled six times in the first leg - only nine times in the whole of MLS was a player fouled more in 2018 - meaning Maxi had to drift wide in the second half to pick up possession and try to influence the game in his usual way.
Will Atlanta have a similar plan this time and how will Maxi and Dome plot to counteract it? It’s an interesting question which could be one of the biggest keys to this particular tie.
Rewards vs. Risks
Another intriguing aspect to this one is how NYCFC approach the pace of the game… do they go all out to cancel the Atlanta away goal early, or do they look to do what Atlanta did to them in the Bronx and look to stifle and frustrate, hanging in the game for as long as possible and look to hit on the break?
For Atlanta, it’s tough too – they will feel as though they need to score again to give themselves some breathing space but they’ll know that City have the attacking players to hurt them with heavyweight away goals if they leave gaps in pursuit of more goals.
These are the games that tactically-focused Head Coaches like Dome Torrent and Tata Martino relish, meaning it will be absolutely fascinating to see how both sides approach this concluding leg of the tie.
It’s all on the line here for the Boys in Blue – a shot at history and a chance to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals for the very first time.
Alex Ring memorably declared after the Columbus Playoffs defeat in 2017 that he felt all the season’s work was for nothing – this time, the Finn and his teammates will at the very least want to leave Atlanta feeling like they left it all out on the field, with no regrets.
They'll have our usually strong contingent of travelling support on their side, looking for a famous result to keep MLS Cup dreams alive.