Alexandru Mitrita struck for a first-half hat trick Wednesday night as New York City FC cruised to a 4-1 win over Atlanta United at Yankee Stadium, inching closer to clinching first place in the Eastern Conference.
NYCFC (17-5-10, 61 points), which extended an unbeaten streak to nine games, needs a Philadelphia Union loss or draw in San Jose later Wednesday night to lock up the East’s top seed in the Major League Soccer playoffs. Atlanta (17-12-3, 54 points), which had a two-game winning streak snapped, remain in second, two points ahead of the Union.
“It’s very important because the performance was outstanding,” NYCFC coach Dome Torrent said. “The players play really, really well. And It’s important for the next step.”
When the last regular season contest at Yankee Stadium was over, the NYCFC players lined up to face the supporters sections behind the goal and captain Alex Ring took to the mic and addressed the announced crowd of 24,290.
“This is the first step to when we lift the Cup this year,” Ring said.
Mitrita opened his account in the 14th minute, cutting inside Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez and Eric Remedi and continuing his run along the edge of the 18-yard box before blasting a strike past Brad Guzan.
In the 23rd minute, the Romanian netted his second, receiving a first-time switch by Maxi Moralez before again cutting inside of Gonzalez-Pirez and putting his shot in off the near post.
On the assist, Moralez became the third player in league history with 20 or more assists in a season.
Mitrita needed just 11 additional minutes to become the third player in club history to net a hat trick, following David Villa and Frank Lampard. He followed the initial shot of Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, who took on Miles Robinson on a diagonal run and scored on the rebound.
“More important is the victory on this night,” Mitrita said. “We played amazing. We have an amazing team and after I’m happy for my first hat trick.”
NYCFC had a golden chance to increase their lead to four goals when Moralez stepped to the penalty spot in the 43rd minute after being barreled over in the box by Florentin Pogba. But Moralez scuffed his penalty, which rolled wide of the net.
Fellow Argentine Pity Martinez didn’t have such problems, burying his PK into the corner of the net in the 53rd minute after Brandon Vazquez, starting in place of the injured Josef Martinez, was taken down by a sliding Maxime Chanot.
Mirtira left to a standing ovation in the 63rd minute, replaced by Heber, who made his first appearance in nearly a month. The Brazilian closed the scoring in the 87th minute, taking a ball over the top from Moralez that deflected off Gonzalez-Pirez and beating Guzan for his 15th goal of the season.
“It’s important for the confidence to finish in Yankee Stadium with this performance,” Torrent said. “Everybody knows they played without [Ezequiel] Barco, without Josef Martinez, but we played without Anton [Tinnerholm], without Keaton [Parks].”
NYCFC’s performance was in stark contrast to the 2-1 loss at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on August 11.
“I remember in the press conference after the game in Atlanta, I say if you want to [beat] Atlanta, you have to be brave,” Torrent said. “And today they are outstanding. An outstanding performance and I am happy for that.”