WASHINGTON – Despite slogging through another slow start before falling to a 3-1 defeat to D.C. United on Sunday, locking up the right to host a Knockout Round game in the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs remains in New York City FC's control.
How important is doing so with a victory or draw against the Philadelphia Union next Sunday? It depends on who you ask, and how you ask them.
While overall, NYCFC have earned only six points and one victory in their last nine matches, five of those points were earned across four home games. A 1-1 draw at Montreal a month ago represents the side’s only point earned away in that stretch.
On that evidence, NYCFC manager Dome Torrent said he feels compelled to do everything possible to make sure his squad open the postseason at home.
“We fight for to win the game – it’s not about just one point,” Torrent said. “If you are able to win the game, you play again the first game at home. And at home we are stronger than away – this is clear. At least this year. For the confidence, it’s very important to win.”
Goalkeeper Sean Johnson agreed it was crucial his team show an improved effort against the Union.
“We have one more opportunity to go out there, still with our destiny in our hands, to secure a home game for the first game of the playoffs, so our focus has got to be on that,” he said. “Fortunately we’re still in position to have control over that. But it’s just, it’s got to be better.
“Right now it’s tough to really look upon anything for answers or solving problems right after a performance like this. But that’s the one thing I do know. It’s got to be better.”
Yet the nine-year MLS veteran also understands whatever happens before the playoffs begin is nowhere near as intense as what happens once they start.
“To be honest, I could really care less about momentum, I could care less about any outside influence on the outcome of the playoffs or what team advances,” Johnson said. “At the end of the day, you put yourself in the playoffs, you put yourself in the position to go on, and you’ve got to show up on the day and anything can happen. So we’ve just got to be the team that shows up on the day, wherever that is.”
Perhaps the biggest boost for the Cityzens' confidence may come in getting their ideal starting XI healthy, including Maxi Moralez and Yangel Herrera. On Sunday, Herrera made an 18-minute appearance, his first since suffering what was feared a season-ending ankle injury on May 25. Illness kept Moralez out for a second consecutive match on Sunday, after missing the 2-1 loss at Minnesota United on Sept. 29 due to a foot injury.
“If Yangel is fit, Yangel will play, 100 percent,” Torrent said. “Because when they play, we play at another level. … And I have my [playoff] XI in my mind. It’s clear. But we have one more game and you never know what will happen in soccer.”