Ahhh, the MLS Playoffs - where the scores are aggregated and the goals are disallowed. For a minute it looked like we had seen this movie before. A hard fought goal that came after Atlanta was dominating its opponent gets overturned and the team loses a game it should have won. Luckily that didn’t happen as the Five Stripes turned their luck around and beat NYCFC and VAR 1-0 in New York.
It was a really nice game too. Atlanta got a win against one of the best teams in the league when it really counted. Sure, I could say that the Five Stripes got the result thanks to a classic Yankee Stadium goal - a ball that rocketed off of the keeper bounced a few times and a defensive player that was probably so close to the goal because it was only a light 30 foot jog back to his position in defensive midfield was in the right place to tap home the rebound and that New York deserved to lose in the playoffs because they play in a stadium that is an embarrassment even though they are owned by a Sheikh. There’s no but after all that, that’s what happened.
Unless you’re Dome Torrent and have a different idea about the game. As he told MLS in a pre-baited click bait ready soundbite:
“I say to my players, I want to say to Tata Martino, we will not throw the ball out because we have a referee,” Torrent said. “When it’s a foul and one player is diving, the player from Atlanta, New York City decides [not to] throw the ball outside. If not, you can waste 15 minutes and it’s a final.”
Do you smell what the Dome is cooking? Hear that Atlatna United - DIVING WILL NOT BE TOLERATED BY DOME THE SOCCER SHERIFF AND NYCFC WILL NOT BE PUTTING THE BALL OUT OF BOUNDS, WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO SAY ABOUT THAT? I BET YOU WON’T JUST REPLY WITH A DAD JOKE...
Pick your face up Dome.
“Soccer is all about goals, hot nasty badass goals”- Pele***
We know one thing about NYCFC in this game - they must score a goal, this seems obvious but a lot of teams have come into MBS and tried to keep the match completely scoreless. This is the real magic of the MLS Playoffs, they might take a full six months to complete and feature innovative scheduling, like playing games midweek that start after 10PM on the East Coast, but sometimes they create an incentive for exciting soccer. That said, in order to do that they will have to crack an Atlanta United defense that didn’t give up a shot on goal to David Villa and one of the best attacking sides in the league.
It won’t be such a mystery as to how New York will try to do this. With a lead at home, Atlanta is likely to cede possession, press, and try to create chances off of the transition. At home, Torrent went with a 4-2-3-1 formation with Ronald Matarritta starting on the left wing in place of Jesus Medina. Needing a goal away, he may opt to start Matarrita in defense over the indomitable Ben Sweat at left back with Medina on the left for more of an attacking lineup. In any case, expect New York to keep possession as best they can while they try to break the Atlanta press.
Double the pitch size, double the fun
Small field aside, as Josh described earlier this week, Tata also got the tactics right in New York and unlocked the achievement of winning on a tiny field. Now he’ll have to do it on a regulation sized pitch and make sure that his team keeps its intensity and focus up despite having a one goal aggregate lead. With Jeff Larentowicz questionable for the game and Chris McCann probably unavailable again, it seems like Martino will have a few options with his lineup selection. On one hand he can play a 4-2-3-1 or he might go with a 3-5-2 again and start Franco Escobar at center back, position Julian Gressel at wingback and put Tito Villalba on the wing. The three center back formation worked against New York in the first leg and Tata may be tempted to shuffle his personnel but keep the tactics the same.
Also, since this is MLS, it will be interesting to see if all time Atlanta United playoffs goal leader Eric Remedi plays with any hesitation knowing that another yellow card means he’s suspended for his next playoff match. Josef Martinez and Tito Villalba are also carrying yellows, so they may be early subs if Tata is worried about their availability should it appear that Atlanta is in a good position to go through to the conference semi-finals.
For the most part, Atlanta will try to do what it did in the first leg of the playoff series and for 73 minutes last April - boss the game against NYCFC.
***You can’t prove that Pele did not say this and I’m a journalist so it must be true.