New York City FC tasted a playofflike atmosphere during a hard-fought 2-1 loss Sunday against Atlanta United, the reigning MLS Cup champions who boast a home-field advantage widely regarded as the best in the league. Moving forward, the Blues seek to use the experience as a building block toward the postseason.
“We didn’t get the result we wanted,” defender/midfielder James Sands told amNewYork on Tuesday before a meet-and-greet with fans at the Adidas Flagship Store in midtown. “We know we’ll be playing them again at home and maybe in the playoffs. We know what we have to do for next time. We have to get back to the basics. We lost control a little bit. We have to keep moving the ball around.”
With one of the toughest road tests on the regular-season schedule behind them and while enjoying a six-day break after three games in nine days, NYCFC begin a three-game stretch against clubs trailing them in the standings starting Saturday on the road against last-place FC Cincinnati (5-17-3, 18 points).
“It’s a lot of games,” goalkeeper Sean Johnson told amNY. “But it’s not a time to relax or hit cruise control. It’s a time to make sure your body is right and do what’s necessary to make sure you’re ready to go every day.”
The late summer matches are all the more pivotal with MLS’ revamped playoff format for 2019. The MLS Cup Playoffs are now a single elimination tournament, with the higher seed hosting each match. The Blues currently sit in fourth place, trailing seven points behind the first-place Philadelphia Union, though NYCFC (10-5-8, 38 points) has three games in hand on the conference leaders. The top seed in each conference earns a bye to the conference semifinals.
“We have to put ourselves in position to play as many home games as possible,” Sands said. “We’re confident we’ll be ready when that time comes.”
New for the 2019 season, 14 of the league’s 24 teams will make the postseason, two more than previous years. In the offseason, the league announced the elimination of its home-and-home format in the hope it would place a greater emphasis on regular-season performance.
“At the end of the day, you have to get your foot in the door of the playoffs,” Johnson said. “Every game in the postseason is win or go home. That’s where we want to be.”