NEW YORK — New York City FC entered the first leg of its Eastern Conference semifinal against Atlanta United on Sunday with high confidence. The Cityzens were at home and in form following back-to-back wins against the Philadelphia Union.
Atlanta, one of the best road teams in MLS, derailed the City mystique with a 1-0 triumph in the Bronx in front of an announced audience of 19,198 – just NYCFC’s second loss at home this season and the third defeat in their City comforts over the last 22 matches.
Eric Remedi had a tap-in in the 37th minute off a Josef Martinez volley that City goalkeeper Sean Johnson saved. The rebound nestled softly at the back post where Remedi scored his first career MLS goal.
“We need to improve the next game,” NYCFC head coach Dome Torrent said. “In the first half we didn’t play well. There was not connection between the midfielders and forwards. And we didn’t defend the set pieces well.”
Martinez’ rocket volley came directly off a corner kick.
On the attacking side, NYCFC finished without a shot on target for the first time in franchise history.
“Their corners are dangerous and we need to be more switched on,” NYCFC midfielder Alex Ring said. “The second half was much better. If we play like we did in the second half, we’ll have a chance to win in Atlanta. We know we can score goals there.”
City will be entering a cauldron next Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where the Five Stripes suffered but two losses in their 17 regular matches. Atlanta also broke their own MLS record for attendance there, averaging an announced 53,002 per game.
NYCFC managed a franchise-low four victories away from Yankee Stadium in 2018.
Finland international Alex Ring provided a glimpse of the attitude his teammates will carry to the southeast.
“What happened before the playoffs, I don’t give a [expletive],” Ring said. “I mean, if you are not ready because it’s a mental block in the playoffs that you are playing away, then you are playing the wrong sport.”
Johnson made it possible for City to speak in positive terms for the second leg — his spectacular save on a Greg Garza strike in the second half preserved the deficit to one road goal.
“I think for us, going into Atlanta, it’s got to be played like a final,” the Atlanta native Johnson said. “Not conceding the second [goal] was important for us.”
The second leg will be played Sunday, Nov. 11 (5pm EST) – and the formula is straightforward for New York City.
“We don’t need to win 2-0, 3-0, 4-1 – we just need to win,” Torrent said. “If we win 1-0, it’s extra time. If we win by two, we’re in the final. It’s simple as that.”