NYCFC "not settling" for playoff spot, target first place in the East

BRONX, N.Y. – New York City FC are one of three teams that have already clinched a spot in the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs, but they’re not satisfied with that.

At least that was the message from midfielder Keaton Parks after his team’s 2-1 come-from-behind win over the New England Revolution Saturday at Yankee Stadium.

“Going into the last stretch, just like the rest of the season, we’re here to win,” Parks said. “I know we already clinched playoffs, but we’re not settling for that. We want to finish in first place and then get rewarded with a bye.”

Parks reiterated that ambition after a follow-up question, and NYCFC are on firm ground there, with their 15th win of the regular season vaulting Dome Torrent’s team into first place in the Eastern Conference. They’re ahead of the Philadelphia Union with a game in hand and carry a five-game winning streak into Wednesday’s home match (7 pm ET | TSN 4/5, MLS LIVE on ESPN+) against Toronto FC.

At this stage of the year, they’re hyper-aware of what first place produces: a first-round bye and home-field advantage in the playoffs. At least that’s what Jesus Medina banged home, with his brace powering the Cityzens over New England.

“We’re conscious of where we are in the table and that we have the opportunity to go up to first, especially that we have all these games in hand,” Medina said through a translator. “But we’re also taking it day by day and have Toronto coming up. We’ll take it from there.”

A first-place finish would be uncharted territory for the fifth-year club. Under the guidance of since-departed manager Patrick Vieira, NYCFC finished in second place in 2016 and ‘17, then slipped to third in ‘18 when the Frenchman departed for Ligue 1 side Nice and Torrent took over. They’ve never advanced past the Eastern Conference semifinals, the stage where eventual MLS Cup champions Atlanta United bounced them last fall.

Much remains before this season’s path crystallizes, which captain Alex Ring emphasized after the New England match.

“It’s not easy having games in hand, knowing you have to win to go on top,” Ring said. “I think it’s easier to set the pace and let others try to stay behind you. We’re just going game-by-game and now we play on Wednesday again. That’s all we focus on. It’s nice to be top of the table, but if we’re not there at the end of the regular season, it doesn’t mean anything now.”

Similarly, Torrent knows it’s too early to consider the job done. NYCFC still have to face Atlanta again, and then it’s a potentially must-watch game at Philadelphia on Oct. 6 for Decision Day presented by AT&T.

“Maybe we are in the first position, but it’s not important at the moment,” Torrent said. “It’s important against Philadelphia if we are able to finish in the first position, but I am happy because we have six games to finish the regular season and we will try to finish in the first position.”