But for two defensive standouts returning from injuries, it was a critical chance to work toward full match fitness ahead of the MLS Cup playoffs.
Anton Tinnerholm, who missed two games after suffering a concussion in a 1-1 draw at FC Dallas Sept. 22, and James Sands, back on the field after nine games away due to a broken clavicle, both returned to the field in NYCFC’s regular-season-ending 2-1 win over the Union.
Tinnerholm started and played all but one minute, while Sands came on for an eight-minute substitute appearance.
It was big for both players because NYCFC’s first playoff game isn’t until Oct. 23.
“I think it’s hard especially when you play a team like that, just because it depends on the situation of the game if I’m going to go in or not,” Sands told Pro Soccer USA. “If we had a huge lead I probably would have gone in sooner. It’s hard to get up to speed after I’ve been out for so long. I think the minutes I got were good.”
While both will train fully, the only way to get match fitness is to play in matches.
“It’s good to be back,” Tinnerolm said. “I think I needed it before the playoff game. I think we’re going to have some kind of scrimmage before next weekend, I hope so it’s not too big of a break.”
During the break, NYCFC will likely meet its academy team in a scrimmage, which both players say will be advantageous to get into a rhythm.
“I think I can get most of the way there and then in the playoffs, everyone has to raise their games,” Sands said. “So I just have to be able to get my fitness up a little more.”
Toronto FC or D.C. United?
Decision day brought about clarity in the MLS Cup playoff picture. NYCFC already knew they’d have home-field advantage, but now know who they’ll meet in the Eastern Conference semifinals — sort of.
So, any preference when it comes to an opponent?
“I don’t care, playoffs is different. It’s a one-game, a knockout game, it’s gonna be completely different,” Alex Ring said. “It’s important for us to win, but now those wins won’t help us in the future against these teams. We just have to go out on the pitch and compete and we have to win.”
“The preference is arrive in the best form in the first game,” coach Dome Torrent said. “After that, I don’t have the control about D.C., about Toronto. What happens, happens and we have to be ready to play against D.C., against Toronto.”
Best form down the stretch
When it comes to the team with the best form down the stretch of the regular season, NYCFC tops that list.
Hot at the right time? #MLS playoff teams points over final 10 games:
1. NYCFC 23
2. Atlanta 19
3. Toronto 18
4. LAFC 17
4. Seattle 17
6. RSL 16
6. Philly 16
8. Minnesota 15
8. Dallas 15
10. DCU 14
10. LAG 14
12. Portland 12
13. New England 12
14. Red Bulls 11
— Duane Rollins (@24thminute) October 7, 2019
No playoff-bound team has accrued more points (23) in the final 10 games of the season or had more points per game (2.3) than NYCFC, which went 7-1-2. Atlanta United (6-3-1) was next with 19 points, 1.9 per game.