Behind a first-half hat trick from Alexandru Mitrita, New York City FC rolled to a 4-1 win over Atlanta United on Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium in a match between the Eastern Conference’s top two teams.
The three points inched NYCFC further to the East’s No. 1 seed for the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs, though anything definitive depends on how the third-place Philadelphia Union fare at the San Jose Earthquakes later Wednesday evening (11 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, on DAZN in Canada).
Mitrita’s outburst occurred in a 21-minute spell, as he scored in the 14th, 23rd and 34th minutes. All three came with his right foot, twice beating Brad Guzan after cutting inside and once after cleaning up a powerful strike from Ismael Tajouri-Shradi.
As NYCFC opened up a 3-0 lead at halftime, a pair of penalty kicks shaped the match. First, Maxi Moralez missed his fourth spot kick of the season, as he missed wide left in the 43rd minute. On Mitrita’s second strike, Moralez had supplied his MLS-leading 20th assist of the year, joining Sacha Kljestan and Carlos Valderrama as the only others to reach that mark in league history.
Following a rough first half, a penalty kick in the 53rd minute gave the Five Stripes a minor boost. Pity Martinez, after Brandon Vazquez was tripped up in the box by Maxime Chanot, made it 3-1 from 12 yards out.
Any comeback hopes were extinguished in the 87th minute, when Heber made it a memorable return from injury. The Brazilian striker, out since an Aug. 31 match against the Vancouver Whitecaps, beat Leandro Gonzalez Pirez to a 50-50 ball, dribbled Guzan and slotted into the empty net.
- 14' – NYC – Alexandru Mitritra | WATCH
- 23' – NYC – Alexandru Mitritra | WATCH
- 34' – NYC – Alexandru Mitritra | WATCH
- 53' – ATL – Pity Martinez (PK) | WATCH
- 87 – NYC – Heber | WATCH
- THE BIG PICTURE: The match went about as well as NYCFC could have hoped, even with right back Anton Tinnerholm and center mid Keaton Parks both out through injury. Heber returned and scored, Maxi Moralez made some history and Alexandru Mitrita was electric. They’re ever-so-close to clinching the No. 1 spot in the East, too. But for Atlanta, it was a night to forget – and not just because Josef Martinez remains sidelined. It’s now mathematically impossible for the defending MLS Cup champions to get the top seed. Further, center mids Eric Remedi and Mo Adams are both suspended for this weekend's match due to yellow-card accumulation.
- MOMENT OF THE MATCH: We’re going with Heber’s 87th-minute strike, and not just because he deftly dribbled past Brad Guzan. The return of the Brazilian striker should give the Cityzens a massive postseason boost.
- MAN OF THE MATCH: Could it really be anyone other than Alexandru Mitrita? The Designated Player is now on 12 goals for the year after a first-half hat trick decided this game early on.