Sunday’s three points at Mercedes-Benz Stadium – which secured third place in the Eastern Conference to set up a postseason showdown with Inter Miami CF – came at a heavy cost in the form of injuries to Tayvon Gray, Alfredo Morales and, most worrisome of all, Talles Magno.
The Brazilian playmaker left the game in tears and grabbing his left arm just before halftime after falling awkwardly on the pitch following a collision with Atlanta's Juan Jose Purata. The disturbing scene ruined what was turning into another vintage performance from Magno, who set up Gabriel Pereira's 9th-minute opener with a brilliant first-touch through ball.
It also cast a heavy shadow over an NYCFC side that was gaining momentum with three straight league wins and a Campeones Cup triumph over Liga MX's Atlas FC to end the regular season after an awful summer slump in the wake of the departures of head coach Ronny Deila (to Belgium's Standard Liège) and 2021 Golden Boot presented by Audi winner Taty Castellanos (loaned to Girona in LaLiga).
Will Magno recover in time?
"We’re concerned. It’s a foot injury for Tayvon, it’s a shoulder injury for Talles and it looks like a calf injury for Alfredo. The severity of them is, we don’t know," NYCFC interim manager Nick Cushing said post-game.
"We'll give our medical team space," the Englishman added, while maintaining hope he'll be able to count on all three in the postseason.
“I’ll tell you one thing: we haven’t ruled them out as really serious yet. But it’s the initial period so, like I said, we’ll give the medical team space and we’ll go from there."
In theory at least, the chances of the defending champions lifting the trophy for a second straight year depend heavily on Magno, the team's spark plug who took on the offensive burden after Castellanos left in late July.
Unfortunately, NYCFC are now facing the prospect of making a run at a repeat without Magno. It's the latest daunting challenge Cushing is convinced the club is capable of taking on.
"I’ve learned from the team that we can adapt and we’re flexible in the roster that we have," he said.
This flexibility was on display in Atlanta, as Mango's replacement Héber scored the game-winner in the 60th minute. Andrew Gutman pulled one back for the hosts seven minutes later, but the Cityzens held firm to see out the result.
"We’ve shown that no matter what challenge gets thrown at us that we can find solutions and we can stick together and we can finish really strong going into the playoffs with momentum," Cushing said.
Regardless of who's fit enough to be in the starting XI against Miami, midfielder Nicolas Acevedo believes NYCFC can get the job done and move on in the playoffs.
"I think it’s going to be a really beautiful game, a strong game. They have lots of quality players, players with experience," the Uruguayan said of the Herons. "But we’re going to give it everything we have, we want to win."