Atlanta United Goals: Gutman 67'
New York City Goals: Pereira 9', Héber 60'
New York City will host Inter Miami CF in the first round of the 2022 MLS playoffs, having clinched third place in the Eastern Conference. The feat was confirmed with a deserved 2-1 win at Atlanta United on Decision Day, courtesy of Gabriel Pereira and Héber's eighth goals of the season. Andrew Gutman halved the deficit for the hosts but Nick Cushing's side held on to secure a fourth successive victory to end the regular season on a high.
The Boys in Blue traveled to Georgia unbeaten since 2015 on Decision Day but never having triumphed at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. With qualification for the playoffs and home advantage already wrapped up, the only matter on the line was the final league standings to determine who the MLS Cup Champions would face in the first round.
Opting for consistency with his starting line-up, Interim Head Coach Cushing made just one change to the side that come from behind to defeat Orlando City last time out, as Keaton Parks returned to the XI for the first time since June, in place of Santiago Rodríguez. Alfredo Morales also made a welcome return to the matchday squad on the bench, having not featured since mid-August through injury.
Riding the crest of a wave, City stormed into an early lead, opening the scoring on nine minutes with a beautiful passage of play. Talles Magno was the provider, crafting his 10th assist of the season, combining well with Keaton Parks before sliding the ball into Pereira’s path and the Brazilian clipped expertly over Raúl Gudiño.
There was cause for concern on the quarter-hour, as Tayvon Gray limped off through an ankle injury, with Anton Tinnerholm introduced in his place.
New York regrouped and came inches away from doubling the advantage when Nico Acevedo’s long-range curling effort crashed back off the post, while Sean Johnson was called into action to thwart Luiz Araújo before the Atlanta man drilled wide.
Kevin O’Toole almost opened his City account with a first-time effort from the edge, which was cleared off the line, and Parks looked to set up Talles Magno, who could not work the space for a shot under pressure and was frustratingly forced off with a shoulder injury sustained in the process.
The first real chance of the second half fell to Parks, who dragged wide before the hour, while Pereira also saw an effort deflected off-target.
The resulting corner would yield the second goal though, as Héber swept home Alex Callens' flick-on, adjusting well to volley sweetly into the back of the net.
In a bid to save legs and hand valuable minutes to those returning, Cushing made a triple change midway through the second period.. Morales was brought on but unfortunately did not last the full half, as another injury casualty.
Atlanta pulled a goal back on 67 minutes when Gutman converted from close range, after Thiago Almada had kept Araújo's floated pass alive by clipping back across goal.
The strike denied Sean Johnson the clean sheet that would have clinched the Golden Glove, tied with Philadelphia Union's Andre Blake but the NYCFC captain would show his worth, diving brilliantly to deny Gutman at the near post and tipping a late Josef Martínez header over the bar to preserve City's lead.
That would be the closest the home side came to a leveler and New York hung on for another impressive win.
Player of the Match
How We Lined Up
New York City will make our seventh consecutive Audi MLS Cup Playoffs appearance, welcoming Inter Miami CF to Red Bull Arena next weekend, as the Club looks to become the first team in a decade to win back-to-back MLS Cups.
With the date and time of the fixture to be confirmed, stay tuned to NYCFC.com for an update in the coming days.