Defensive errors sink NYCFC in Conference Semifinals for 3rd straight year

ATLANTA — The disaster for New York City FC came in triplicate.

Three mistakes, three goals conceded and the third consecutive Eastern Conference Semifinals ouster following a 3-1 second leg defeat to Atlanta United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday.

“The soccer is about mistakes,” NYCFC coach Dome Torrent said. “When you arrive in the semifinals and the final, it’s about the team that doesn’t concede goals, doesn’t make a mistake that has more opportunities to play the final.”

The first error came in the 23rd minute when Ismael Tajouri-Shradi committed to a sliding tackle on Franco Escobar, who cut the ball back at the endline, resulting in a foul in the box. Josef Martinez converted the ensuing penalty kick to put the Five Stripes in front 1-0 in the game and 2-0 on aggregate.

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The more egregious error came a little less than 20 minutes later when Yangel Herrera inadvertently passed the ball directly to Miguel Almiron, then doubled down by fouling the midfielder, who punished NYCFC by putting his free kick over the five-man wall and inside the left post.

“The problem was the first half,” Torrent said. “I don’t know, in the first 20 minutes we make a penalty, maybe it's a [dive], but I accept. The second goal we concede and you know what happened. After that it’s our mistake.”

After NYCFC clawed back on a Maxime Chanot goal before the break, Martinez put the series on ice with his second goal in the 83rd minute. While four defenders pushed forward in an offside trap, the Golden Boot winner was kept onside by Valentin Castellanos, who came on at halftime for Herrera.

“This game was going to be one where no matter if a goal was conceded early we were still in it, still had a chance,” goalkeeper Sean Johnson said. “We had to win. At 2-0, difficult; 2-1, doable; 3-1, game over.”

Alex Ring said he didn’t see much different from the Five Stripes tactically at home from the first leg at Yankee Stadium. They were just a bit more clinical in the second half, thanks to three costly NYCFC mistakes.

“I think even today, their gameplan was pretty much the same like at Yankee Stadium — sit tight, wait and play on the counterattack,” the midfielder said. “We made it easy for them because of our own mistakes. You have to be that honest in this series. But it’s not like we didn’t have chances to score, to capitalize where maybe they did. That’s why they went to the next round and we didn’t because they put their chances away, easy as that.”

Chances were also few and far between for NYCFC captain David Villa, who was unable to get a shot on target over the course of 180 minutes. After NYCFC was unable to put a shot on frame in the first leg — a first in the club’s short history — the Cityzens tested Brad Guzan four times in the second leg.

NYCFC had 69.1 percent of the possession Sunday, but the goals needed to advance to the Eastern Conference Championship didn’t materialize. The defensive mistakes did.

“When you arrive in the semifinals it's about the goals,” Torrent said. “You have to score the goals. We knew we had to score and we are not able to score more goals.”

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