On Sunday, New York City FC and every team in the Eastern Conference kicked off the final games of the season at the same time. The Pigeons looked to hold onto third place, and needed a win or draw in order to keep their position.
At the same time, the Bronx team wanted to continue their recent run, and beat Atlanta United FC before entering the playoffs. As such, Nick Cushing fielded most of the recent Starting XI, with the one change being Keaton Parks on for Santiago Rodríguez. As the saying somewhat goes, if it isn’t broken, then don’t fix it.
So, despite injuries and early substitutions, NYCFC beat Atlanta, 2-1. This was their first win away to the Five Stripes, and the team officially clinched third place with 55 points.
The first half was one of their better halves offensively, for they had eight shots with three on target. But they controlled a good portion of the first half, both in possession and pace of play. It looked like they would end up with multiple goals, but Atlanta was strong defensively.
New York City FC finished the regular season with a 2-1 win
However, that did not stop New York City FC from scoring in the 9th minute. Talles Magno added his tenth assist of the season when he sent a through ball to Gabriel Pereira. Inside the box, the young Brazilian ran in front of the defenders, chipped the ball into the back of the net, and put the Pigeons on top. This was Pereira’s eighth of the season, and Magno’s assist showed how well the two Brazilians work with one another.
Meanwhile, the second half was a different story, for Atlanta was the team on the offensive prowl. They controlled the majority of the possession, and constantly threatened NYCFC’s defense.
But, the Bronx side mostly held the line. They did give up one goal, but otherwise defended like their lives depended on winning the match. Everyone was on the same page, critical clearances were made, and Sean Johnson had a couple of critical saves toward the end of the 90 minutes.
In fact, Atlanta was so close to tying the game in stoppage time of the second half. Josef Martínez headed the ball, and it would have gone in without Johnson’s quick reaction. The goalkeeper speedily sent the ball out of harm’s way, and kept his team in front.
Additionally, the Pigeons added a second goal off a corner kick in the midst of Atlanta’s dominance in the second half. In the 60th, Pereira sent the ball in, and it bounced off the head of Alexander Callens to direct it toward Héber. The Brazilian striker, who was right in front of the left side of goal, side-swept the ball into the back-right corner, and ended up with the winning goal for New York City FC.
Injuries overshadow Decision Day for New York City FC
Going into the match, New York City FC had a clean bill of health. Finally, everyone was back and available. Unfortunately, that did not last long, and injuries from the first half overshadowed Decision Day. Of course, injuries are always a concern in Atlanta, for they play on turf. Turf tends to increase the risk of injury, and it appears players around the league often get hurt on Atlanta’s pitch.
First, Tayvon Gray was the first player to go down. On an attempted interception or clearance, his foot slightly collided with an Atlanta player, and awkwardly slammed it on the turf. The defender could not get up, and after treatment, could not put weight down on his foot. He had to be helped off the field, and was officially substituted off in the 18th minute.
Luckily, NYCFC has two excellent right-backs in Gray and Anton Tinnerholm, so the Swedish player easily came on and replaced his teammate. There was no downgrade in the level of talent, and Tinnerholm probably played one of his best games since his injury last season. He also needed the minutes, and it was good to see him play close to a full match.
That was not the only injury in the first half though. Magno went down right before stoppage time in the first half, and clearly was in an insane amount of pain. It soon became obvious that he had hurt his shoulder, and possibly dislocated it. The training staff could not do anything on the pitch, and like Gray, he had to go off.
As a result, Héber had to come on, and it did pay off in the end with his goal. Still, Magno has been in fantastic form over the last few games, and has been vital in the attacking third. Losing him would truly hurt the Pigeons, so hopefully he will be okay.
Finally, after coming on as a substitute, Alfredo Morales looked to have re-aggravated his injury, and had to come off with no changes left. This led NYCFC to finish the match with ten men, but again, they were able to hold on defensively and win.
The injuries are quite concerning, and fans can only wonder if they would have occurred if the team played on grass. Still, they happen, and unfortunately three players were injured in the final fixture of the regular season. The severity of each remains in question, and fans can only hope that Gray, Magno, and Morales will not miss the rest of the season.
Injuries aside, the playoffs are now here, and the focus must be entirely on that. In the first round, New York City FC will play Inter Miami CF, who beat them twice this year. It will be a difficult task, but if the Pigeons continue to play similar to the last few games, then they can finally take revenge in the best possible way: by moving on in the playoffs.