Once again, New York City FC has its back pressed against the wall.
Following their 1-0 loss to Atlanta United in Sunday’s first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals, NYCFC took a step backward at the wrong time.
“Today, it’s a bad result for us, but I reminded my players we need to imagine it’s a final,” head coach Domènec Torrent told reporters after the game.
Atlanta’s Eric Remedi scored the game’s lone goal in the 37th minute, tapping in a loose ball at the far post off an initially saved Josef Martinez shot. The goal at Yankee Stadium acts as a tiebreaker; if NYCFC can score a goal at Atlanta in the second leg of the Eastern semis on Sunday, they’ll force extra time with the score tied on aggregate. A 2-0, or even a 2-1 win on Sunday would see NYCFC advance.
NYCFC suffered its third consecutive loss in the first leg of the Eastern semis. It was a night that saw them look more like the team that struggled to the end of the regular season, winning just three of their final 13 matches. Sunday night was also the second time this year that NYCFC lost at home.
The Blues couldn’t get past Atlanta United’s press and were unable to control the game like they did the last two matches earlier in the week. Atlanta played physical, and NYCFC took a beating in just about every part of the match. It was the first time that they were shut out since losing 1-0 on Sept. 5 and the first time all season they were held without a shot on goal.
Now, NYCFC must travel to Atlanta and win on the road, despite winning just four matches away from the Bronx this season. Still, the club remains confident thanks, in part, to some moderate success in Atlanta near the beginning of the season. They managed a 2-2 draw there on April 15, rallying from a one-goal deficit twice.
“Obviously, we know what we have to do,” NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson said. “Nothing really matters in the past going forward now. So, we’re not really looking into our struggles in the past leading up to this next game in Atlanta, so we’re just going to treat it like a final.”