New York City FC were dominant in their 2-0 win over Atlanta United on Sunday. And that’s something to be proud of. Even fresh off a 6-game unbeaten streak to end the season and within the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium for the MLS Cup Playoff First Round, the Boys in Blue faced stiff competition in the Five Stripes who had gone unbeaten in their final six games of the regular season as well and had already rallied after an awful start to their season, winning only 2 of their first 17 games in 2021. Despite Atlanta being a worthy foil to their MLS Cup aspirations, NYCFC made quick work of their adversaries with one of the best second halves you’ll ever see from a competitive football club.
But the celebrations and praise for City’s performance will have to be brief, as they now face their toughest challenge of the year — a trip to Foxborough, Massachusetts to take on the New England Revolution. By any standard, the Revs are the best team in league history from a perspective based purely on results, with the club gathering a record-setting 76 points en route to capturing the 2021 Supporters Shield in dominant fashion. Factor that in with NYCFC being one of the most underwhelming road teams this past season, and one can see why fans aren’t particularly relishing this particular contest.
In order for NYCFC to finally live up to their MLS Cup aspirations, going through the Revs in the Eastern Conference Semifinals is now a requirement. But it’s not a completely hopeless task.
NYCFC haven’t been terrible in New England in 2021
In 2021, NYCFC and the Revs have met three times this season. New York City won their only true home game against New England in a thorough 2-0 victory at Yankee Stadium while losing the other “home” matchup 3-2. The Revolution won their only home game at Gillette Stadium to the tune of 2-1.
What these numbers show is that, outside of City’s dominant showing at Yankee Stadium, games between these two have been close. The two sides’ first matchup could’ve easily been a draw had it not been for City’s defense falling asleep at the end and conceding a goal to former Blue, Tommy McNamara, and an impressive performance from Matt Turner in net. The third matchup was also marred by Santi Rodriguez sustaining an injury early on (right after scoring a goal) and Alfredo Morales’ sending off shortly into the first half.
It can be argued that NYCFC have been New England’s stiffest competition to this point. Obviously, that’s not enough to become favorites in the eyes of the bookmakers, but it’s something. And at this point, ‘something’ is can make all the difference.
New England have had a long layoff since their last competitive game
Another thing to take into account is the long layoff between games for New England. Having easily walked the league en route to a Supporters Shield and MLS points record, the Revs haven’t played a competitive game since November 7, a full 23 days before the Eastern Conference Semifinal. A similar gap in games could’ve very well played a part in Western Conference leaders, Colorado Rapids, losing to the Portland Timbers in dramatic fashion in the Western Conference Semifinal. Downtime can be a real enemy to teams when it comes to form and match fitness, and it’s something City should take advantage of on Tuesday.
Similar circumstances have also played against NYCFC in the past, as they were bounced out of the playoffs early in both 2017 and 2019 after a long bye period followed an exceptional regular season performance. Should NYCFC still be hot from their bout against Atlanta, momentum could very well be the deciding factor.