1017 NYC sider

It was a resounding start to the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs for New York City FC.

A 3-0 win over Inter Miami CF Monday night in an Eastern Conference Round One match at rainy Citi Field – with the Cityzens' normal home of Yankee Stadium unavailable due to the MLB postseason – was the latest message from the defending champions that they're not ready to concede their crown without a fight.

The result now sets up an Eastern Conference Semifinal at No. 2 seed CF Montréal on Sunday afternoon (1 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN3 in US; TSN, TVA Sports in Canada).

Magnificent Maxi

While the hosts felt they deserved more from the first half, they turned a scoreless draw into a 2-0 second-half lead in about six minutes – first through a well-taken strike from Gabriel Pereira in the 63rd minute and then on a brilliant 19-pass team goal finished by Maxi Moralez to essentially put the match out of reach.

"I think that's a real testament to the professionalism and the collective thinking that we have in the group, that we continue to do the same things, switch the play, run the spaces in behind, and continue to create chances," interim head coach Nick Cushing said.

Cushing heaped praise on Moralez, saying the Argentine midfielder "played an incredible game."

"To me it was a master class. I can't say enough about him," Cushing said. "His professionalism, his leadership, his talent, his effect he has on the team... he is a real special guy, and when we play games like we did tonight, and performances like we did tonight, he is always a huge part of that."

WATCH: Pure class! NYCFC seal Conference Semis berth with brilliant team goal

Battle-tested

NYCFC at one point went unbeaten in 16 of 17 regular-season matches (11W-1L-5D), but that stretch was derailed at the beginning of August, with a 10-match run that followed, seeing them claim just five points out of a possible 30 (1W-7L-2D).

While that can be partially attributed to the loaning-out of striker Taty Castellanos to LaLiga side Girona on July 27, Cushing pointed to "really bad luck with injuries" during that period, with "about seven" key players "in the treatment room" at one point.

"That affects the balance of the team, when you lose players like Keaton Parks and Alfredo Morales, you lose players like Thiago Martins and Alex Callens," he said. "At the same time, you have to then try and piece the team together and try to find a balance, and that's not an excuse because the roster has to be robust enough to cope with injuries."

But NYCFC's current five-match win streak (all competitions) means they're headed on the road for the next round of the playoffs. It's not a new experience for them, having played all but Round One away from the Big Apple during last year's dramatic MLS Cup run.

"Montréal are a top, top team. Their coach [Wilfried Nancy] has done an incredible job with them this year," Cushing said. "We have to just prepare for a really difficult game, and if we can repeat what we've done on the road this year, and what we did in the playoffs last year, it gives us the best chance of winning the game."

HIGHLIGHTS: New York City FC vs. Inter Miami CF | October 17, 2022