ORANGEBURG, N.Y. — If New York City FC are looking for a reference point on bouncing back from a first leg loss to beat Atlanta United in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, their coach said they don’t have to dig too deep into history.
The best and most recent example, the Spaniard said, could be found in the Copa Libertadores semifinals when Argentine powerhouse River Plate fell to Gremio, 1-0, in the opening leg at home and fell behind by a goal in Brazil before scoring twice in the closing minutes to reach Sunday’s final against rival Boca Juniors.
“When I want to convince my players, I say look it’s not two years ago, it’s two weeks ago,” Torrent said after training on Thursday. “It’s the same. You have to be focused to try to score.”
As for the club’s history in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, it hasn’t been very good. They were ousted in each of the last two years, first by Toronto FC and then by Columbus Crew SC last November, and face the possibility of a third consecutive elimination in this round when they meet Atlanta Sunday (5:30 pm ET | ESPN, TSN, TVAS) at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Although postseason history might not be on NYCFC’s side, the pressure, according to right back Anton Tinnerholm, is squarely on the hosts.
“This game is different and special because we’re going after this game and we’ve got nothing to lose,” Tinnerholm said. “We know we are 1-0 down and they have to defend a 1-0 lead. I think we have to turn it around and go after and play like we have nothing to lose. If the score is going to be tied [1-1] at the end of the game, they’re going to be scared.”
NYCFC’s struggles away from Yankee Stadium this year have been well documented with the Cityzens a lowly 4-9-4 on the road during the regular season.
“We need to forget about the league,” defender Alex Callens said through a translator. “That doesn’t help us at all right now. We need to be very concentrated, we know it’s part of our personality that we start out [on the front foot] and the team knows we have to be this way and its our last bullet we have in order to be successful.”
In a thrilling regular season encounter, NYCFC twice rallied from deficits to draw the Five Stripes, 2-2, in April. Conceding the first goal on Sunday doesn’t kill NYCFC, but if they’re able to level the aggregate series early?
Game on, said Callens.
“Not only do I think this, but my teammates also think that if we score the first goal everything will change for the team,” Callens said. “We’ll be a lot calmer and the other team will have a lot of pressure. They’re obviously playing at home, in front of a lot of their fans, so if we are able to score first it will make us a lot calmer for the rest of the game.”
Knowing Atlanta already has the away goal in their back pocket, Torrent expects the likelihood of some stall tactics from the hosts the longer the Cityzens are unable to score.
If that’s the case, he has a message for Tata Martino.
“I say to my players, I want to say to Tata Martino, we will not throw the ball out because we have a referee,” Torrent said. “When it’s a foul and one player is diving, the player from Atlanta, New York City decides [not to] throw the ball outside. If not, you can waste 15 minutes and it’s a final.”