Atlanta United happy to bank win, not style points, against NYCFC

BRONX, N.Y. — There were plenty of players on both teams who were capable of magical moments on the ball and the regular season matchups between New York City FC and Atlanta United provided scintillating attacking soccer.

According to Atlanta United captain Michael Parkhurst, that’s not always the recipe for success in the Audi MLS Cup playoffs, especially not at Yankee Stadium.

“Every playoff game is like that. You have to bring it physically, especially on this tight field,” Parkhurst said. “New York is very difficult to play on this field. It’s a big challenge to come in here and get a good result so we’re very happy with that.”

Parkhurst said Atlanta did what was required, albeit it not necessarily what was aesthetically pleasing, to come away with a 1-0 win in the opening leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

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“It was ugly out there at times," Parkhust said. "You have to win the fight. Today, if we didn’t win the fight, we at least equalled it and that was good.”

Tactically, Atlanta frustrated NYCFC in the first half, especially in the midfield with Eric Remedi helping to mark Maxi Moralez and Darlington Nagbe and Julian Gressel winning second balls.

“It was a combination of the style of play for both teams, but also the intensity of the game, the intensity of the occasion,” Jeff Larentowicz said. “I thought in the first half, our midfielders — Julian, Eric, D, Miguel [Almiron] — really pushed the tempo, created turnovers and playing in their end, which is usually very hard to do here.”

A bevy of fouls — a combined season-high 21 in the first half and 39 for the game, along with five yellow cards issued by referee Kevin Stott — meant ample set piece opportunities and that’s where the defending was poor for NYCFC. It’s also where Atlanta punished the hosts with Remedi tapping in the rebound of a Josef Martinez free kick saved initially by a diving Sean Johnson.

“I think first half we didn’t play that well from the back. Second half was much better. Their corners, their set pieces were dangerous,” NYCFC midfielder Alex Ring said. “We have to be more switched on. They did good, but nevertheless we shouldn’t concede a set piece like that.”

NYCFC coach Dome Torrent also lamented a lack of connection between his midfielders and attacking players in the first half because of, in part, Remedi’s shutdown of Moralez in the opening 45 minutes.

“When you play with [Ronald Matarrita], [Ismael Tajouri-Shradi], David [Villa] and even Maxi back to the goal, back to the goal, you are in trouble,” Torrent said. “You have to play in different lines. The second half we played in different lines, we respect the position, Maxi can move inside, but start to run like a winger. Everything is easier when you respect the position and every player knows exactly what will happen when you have the ball and where is your teammate.”

NYCFC changed tactically in the second half and took the game to Atlanta, but the Five Stripes weathered the storm and head back to Mercedes-Benz Stadium with a critical away goal. More than anything else, that’s the biggest takeaway for Atlanta, according to Parkhurst.

“There’s no style points in the playoffs, there’s no performances you can feel good about unless you win so you have to do what you have to do to win the game,” Parkhurst said. “That’s what we had to do tonight. The circumstances called for it and that’s what we did. I think it will be a little bit different when we get on our home field.”

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