Of course this NYCFC team would prefer a bye in the first round of the MLS playoffs in a position they had two consecutive years. Instead, they host a first round knockout game at Yankee Stadium Wednesday evening against the Philadelphia Union as third seed in the east division.
They assured that spot after a season finale 3-1 win over Philadelphia Sunday at Yankee Stadium. The knockout game is win and advance. Lose, it’s go home and think about what could have been.
NYCFC scored early and did not have to come from behind. They felt the momentum early with a three-goal first half and one from the Captain, David Villa in the 34th minute. One goal came from the opposite side as Auston Trusty cleared an attempt that ended in the back of the Union goal.
That was the second time this season NYCFC scored because an opposing player put the ball in his own net. They will take it because goals were hard to find but momentum and a change for sure. That three-goal lead in the first ten minutes was difficult since a 3-2 win at Toronto in mid-August.
“I think the most important thing for the next game, because it’s a knockout game, is to play with confidence for the first half or at least the first 30 minutes and with strong mentality,” head coach Domenec Torrent said. “If you have the desire to win, it’s not impossible.”
This is a coach who took over in the mid season. Patrick Vieira had a different strategy and left for a lucrative international opportunity to manage Nice. Now the task is at hand for Torrent and his players in the knockout round.
The coach said after the season finale where NYCFC was 21-1-4 at home, that it’s not easy to win two consecutive games at home against the same team. And the knockout game occurs in a matter of days so the true test of this season comes Wednesday night in the Bronx.
The Union finished as the Number 4 seed in the east.
“The best news for us is that we get to play in Yankee Stadium,” he said. “We are stronger here. We play with some confidence and we have to review our game because I didn’t like 20 minutes in the second half when we decided to defend because we defend much better when we defend high.”
Strategy talk that is all good coming from the coach and overall his players responded to the transition with lineup changes. Factor in the injuries, suspensions, and those constant roster moves of players coming and going, due to international commitments, this could have turned out differently.
NYCFC, had they not had a good first half of the season, could have left the Bronx Sunday preparing for next year. Instead, they move on and need that continued momentum Wednesday night with similar and quick goals.
Villa said they needed this final win at home for that knockout match. It was discussed before the game.
“The result today was very favorable for us,” he said. “It’s about the good play we did today and it’s something we need to show in the playoffs.” It helps that David Villa is healthy after sitting out a good portion of the season with a bad leg.
NYCFC is different with their attack and more aggressive on the run when Villa is on the field. His 14th goal, converted off a rebound and a right footed shot, went into the net. That added to that momentum of a knockout round game at home.
Yangel Herrera, another key to the offense returned and saw action for the first time since May 25th after sustaining a severe injury to an ankle.
“He was focusing and said, ‘I will be in the playoffs,’” Villa said. “He is an important player for us.”
Indeed every move that is made Wednesday night is important. In that NYCFC post game locker room there was every reason for optimism about another game being played after the knockout.
Midfielder Alexander Ring said: “Yeah, I think the intensity, the energy we had from the beginning today set the tone. I think it’s the way we usually play and the way we have to play going into the playoffs.”
Put it this way, a knockout round is as good as the bye. Yes, NYCFC would prefer it the other way but the momentum has returned at the right time.