Prior to the first kick of their Sunday afternoon, MLS Opening round playoff match with Atlanta, NYCFC coach Ronny Deila and Yankees manager Aaron Boone had a moment on the field. There were words of encouragement from Boone.
NYCFC and the Yankees have a business interest, and until they secure a soccer like stadium in the Bronx, Yankee Stadium continues to be a home for NYCFC with a limited amount of games. Boone, of course, hopes to see his Yankees playing baseball on the same field next October but this was about the MLS playoffs.
For the second time in the club’s seven year history, NYCFC advanced in the postseason with a 2-0 win over Atlanta United. It’s on to the Eastern conference semifinals a week from Tuesday at top seed New England.
The Revolution don’t lose much, however, the NYCFC game plan worked against Atlanta, mainly the defense, and from the looks of it, a similar approach will be ready to stop the Revolution on their home turf.
Then again, defense has been a focal point of NYCFC. They have been limiting the opposition to two goals or less. Two weeks ago, the boys in blue stopped a tough Philadelphia team in the Bronx that secured a first round playoff game at home.
They get enough defense to provide time and get the ball to MLS season leading scorer Valentine “Taty” Castellanos. The MLS Golden Boot Award” winner did not disappoint and scored his first MLS postseason goal at 0:49 in the match.
It was a slow high chopper that went into the net and confused the Atlanta defense.
“He’s flying and he’s done that for almost the entire season now,” Deila said about his leading scorer. “He is dangerous inside the box and has confidence. We have a team that plays up in good situations. I always say that nobody shines alone and when the team is good everybody shines.”
Said Castellanos through an interpreter, “Atlanta has a great team and we knew it was going to be a close game. The goal could come at any moment for them or for us. The second half we were able to dominate and now we enjoy this week and think about our next rival, New England, which we know will be tough, but we’re also tough.”
The other goal caught the Atlanta defense off guard. A well rested Alexander Callens was near the net to head a rebound into an open goal from close range.
But Deila’s team is shining with defense. Sean Johnson was perfect and made four saves for a second career playoff clean sheet. All of the saves came after NYCFC took their 2-0 lead.
Maximiliano Moralez, the captain, was a player that shined and helped set up both of the goals. NYCFC is expecting to stop the Revolution and move on to the conference finals for the first time in their franchise history.
With a defense in motion, and with Castellanos, showing no signs of exhaustion from the rigors of a long season, NYCFC is confident they can put that perfect game plan to work,
“The same plans as today,” Deila said. “It is not any more difficult that it was today. The only difference is it will be away. Atlanta is a top team, and how they play now shows why they haven’t lost many games. They were a big test today so if we can replicate what we did today we have a good chance to win in New England as well.”
It’s a mentality that has worked for NYCFC, and it can only get better. They had a tough late stretch and in the final games of the season it appeared everything came together.
They are a team that also has been good at making adjustments. Deila is able to utilize his bench and throw opposing teams into turmoil. Just ask Philadelphia in that season finale in the Bronx.
Atlanta, though, saw a different game plan. Deila inserted subs in the final minutes of the match. He felt that would secure a home playoff win.
“This is not football, this is soccer,” Deila said. “In American football they change all the time, but we do not do that in soccer. We make changes because things are not working, and people are tired. But we are not tired because we are fit and at the same time we played really well.”
But it’s momentum and that game plan to perfection. NYCFC is confident they will go up to New England and have their revolt versus the Revolution. One more game plan to perfection and it’s a step closer to their first MLS Cup final.
Deila said, “The boys executed the match plan perfectly, This is how we get performances like this.”
Rich Mancuso: Twitter@Ring786 Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso