It’s probably not the biggest game on the schedule for both Atlanta United and NYCFC this year, but it’s quite a pivotal one as the two teams meet at Mercedes-Benz Stadium today. A victory for Atlanta means that it continues to keep the pressure on the Philadelphia Union, who host the Houston Dynamo at 6 p.m. Meanwhile, NYCFC have a pair of matches in hand over Atlanta United coming into today and three in hand over Philly - a win puts them in a plum spot with two very beatable opponents in the Columbus Crew and FC Cincinnati laying ahead.
Simply put, the margin of error is very thin. So what’s the scoop on NYCFC? I had a chance to touch base with Christian Smith, managing editor of Hudson River Blue, to get some thoughts ajead of the matchup.
A two-fold question to start: NYCFC will be coming off a match on Thursday, while Atlanta United have been off since Tuesday. How much of a lift do NYCFC get from Thursday’s win (especially with points being at a premium at this stage of the season), and are you concerned with the quick turnaround (especially with the weather delay)?
I’m not so much worried about the quick turnaround mostly because there was some rotation on Thursday. History has shown that when Maxi Moralez is available, this team is among the league’s best. Seeing as he only played about 15 minutes on Thursday, he’ll likely be available giving NYCFC a good chance for points. Extra rest would obviously be ideal, but City has done just fine before on short rest.
After Atlanta, NYCFC visits an FC Cincinnati team that haven’t been able to keep the ball out of the net (57 GA) and return home against a Columbus team that haven’t been able to put the ball in the net (27 GF). Those are certainly two winnable games, so how important do you think Sunday’s match will be if NYCFC are to end up clinching a wide-open Eastern Conference?
If NYCFC can grab a win in Atlanta, it’s quite possible they’ll be at the top of Eastern Conference by the end of the week. Contrary to previous years, NYCFC has done a good job at avoiding those “trap games” and seem to collect results whenever they’re expected to, even if it’s scrappier than usual. Right now, they’re in the driver’s seat with all the games in hand.
Tactically, what do NYCFC need to do if they’re to leave Mercedes-Benz Stadium with 3 points?
Move the ball - quickly. NYCFC are at their very best when they not only control the pace of the game, but when everyone is in a perpetual state of motion. Also, stay sharp at the back. City have been quite good defensively this season, but can switch off from time to time. And against a team as offensively potent as Atlanta, you need to stay frosty.