While they're certainly in the driver's seat, the Cityzens are hosting in some unorthodox circumstances. NYCFC are playing at LAFC's Banc of California Stadium due to a lack of venue availability – and Concacaf approved ones – in the New York area. With the defending MLS Cup champions opening their 2022 title defense at the LA Galaxy on Sunday (5 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes), Banc of California became a logical solution.
It deprives NYCFC of their usual home-field advantage in the traditional sense, and head coach Ronny Deila admitted on Tuesday that it's a bit of a curveball. But given the circumstances, Deila feels they're prepared to tackle the two-game week, with no cross-country trip needed while juggling multiple competitions.
"It's odd of course to play in LA," Deila told reporters on his pre-match media availability. "At the same time it's the best option for us when you see the whole week, the whole period together where we couldn't play in the stadiums in New York. So it's good for us to travel here, have good weather, and train on even pitches, and the game is going to be in a top stadium as well. So in one way it's a little bit weird, but in another way it's good to be here and it also gets us better prepared for the game against Galaxy."
Added defender Malte Amundsen: "We always love to play in front of our fans, I think that's what everyone wants. But since we're playing here now, we have a very professional set-up and we take the task with a professional mindset and we go to win the game."
Going into Leg 2, Deila acknowledged how facing a Santos side on the verge of elimination makes for a dangerous opponent.
"We learned a lot in the game, I think the game was exactly what we were thinking," Deila said. "They are well organized, disciplined, they work really hard and were hard to break down. We needed to have the ball a lot, so I felt that we created the chances we needed, we won 2-0. We didn't concede any chances in my opinion."
With that in mind, Deila said NYCFC must be prepared for Santos throwing numbers forward from the opening whistle, knowing they need multiple goals to have any chance of advancing.
The series winner will advance to face either Colorado Rapids or Comunicaciones FC (Guatemala) in the quarterfinal stage, which is set for March 8-17.
"It's going to be a tougher game now, it will be a more open game," Deila said. "They have to go forward to get through, so they have to attack us more, and that is more space for us to hurt them. So we have to defend the same way, be very solid defensively and hit them hard when we have opportunities to break on them.
"It's easier to play against a team that wants to attack than a team that's playing five behind [the ball] and sitting in their own half," he added. "They are well-organized, they work really hard and that's always hard to play against. We have to be patient, we have to take the fight at once and be very disciplined in everything we do. If we do that, we have a chance to go through. We have put ourselves in a good situation, up 2-0 at halftime, but still it's a half left and we have to perform at the level we've done in the last game."