ATLANTA – Things were looking good for NYCFC in the early minutes, with plenty of energy and zip causing the Atlanta defense problems.
The NYCFC high press had the home side panicking in possession and making mistakes.
But Atlanta’s explosive attack, capable of ripping any defense to shreds, suddenly clicked into gear and within seven blistering minutes, NYCFC found themselves three goals behind.
“The first goal we made a mistake because two players went for the ball and our recovery wasn’t good. When two players go for the ball and none of them win it, we create the space and become vulnerable,” said coach Patrick Viera. “The second goal, a foul on Callens but the referee didn’t give it, if it was another referee he may give it. I think we put ourselves in a difficult position against the quality players they have on their team. Then when you concede a goal in 17 minutes, then 19 minutes and 25 minutes, it is difficult to for us to get something from the game.”
Atlanta’s tactics of playing over the press instead of through it, started to pay off and on 16’, Almiron converted Julian Gressell’s low cross from the right, giving Sean Johnson no chance.
NYCFC were on the ropes and still reeling from going behind when Atlanta struck again just three minutes later.
This time the attack came from the left with the dangerous Miguel Villalba allowed too much time and space and the Argentinian cut into the box before curling a powerful shot past Johnson to double Atlanta’s lead.
And Atlanta still weren’t finished – but their third goal on 23’ maybe shouldn’t have stood.
Alex Callens was chasing a long ball back toward goal when he seemed to have his heels clipped by the dangerous Gressell – but the referee missed it – and the German claimed his second assist of the game by teeing up Villalba who calmly swept the ball home from close in.
Three shots, three goals told its own story.
It took 36 minutes for NYCFC to force the home keeper into action with David Villa’s low shot from 20 yards pushed away by Alec Kann.
At the break, Patrick Vieira had some thinking to do – change players? Change tactics? Something had to give if NYCFC were going to head home with anything other than a heavy loss.
Atlanta, backed by a partisan and passionate home crowd, were showing why this was the fifth time in 12 the Five Stripes have hit three or more goals in a game this season.
NYCFC again saw more of the ball than Atlanta after the re-start but couldn’t find the goal that was needed to launch a comeback.
There were half-chances and one or two desperate clearances by the home defense, but the longer the game went on without reward, the less likely a fightback became.
Then, finally, on 71’, Sweat played a deep, inch-perfect cross into the box and Jack Harrison met the ball on the full to place calmly into the net – game on?
David Villa caused panic as he challenged Kann for a cross but Atlanta cleared the danger. A second goal had needed to come quickly, but it didn’t.
Atlanta rarely threatened Johnson’s goal in the second-half, but they’d done more than enough in that red-hot first-half seven minutes to be able to see the game out.
The loss means NYCFC are still third while Atlanta, now seventh in the MLS Eastern table, are now top scorers in the division.