Atlanta United’s road to glory will start in New York City, as the Five Stripes travel to face David Villa and NYCFC at Yankee Stadium this Sunday in Leg 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Atlanta’s regular season may have ended on a disappointing note, but with key players returning for the fresh slate of the postseason, they’ll be even more motivated to ensure this incredible season ends in silverware. But they face a strong opponent in NYCFC, who are rounding into form at the right time of the season.
Every kick and every moment matters in the MLS postseason, so this will be one you won’t want to miss. Tune in to Fox Sports 1 at 7:30 p.m. EST Sunday to catch every minute from Yankee Stadium. Click here for all the other ways to follow along with the match.
Atlanta United (21-7-6)
While the Five Stripes’ regular season ended in a disappointing loss, there’s plenty of reasons for Atlanta United fans to feel confident heading into the postseason. At 69 points, the team is tied for the second-most points ever in an MLS season, still an incredible season by any measure. And with Tito Villalba adding a spark off the bench against Toronto in his return from injury and Miguel Almirón back in full training, several key pieces in the attack are back for their postseason run. That will be a major boost for a motivated side going north to face NYC.
They will of course be feeding Josef Martinez, who got back on the scoresheet last week to bring his unprecedented season tally to 31 goals. His snapdown header to beat Sean Johnson won MLS Goal of the Week in the team’s last visit to Yankee Stadium, and him getting back on a red-hot scoring streak could propel Atlanta United to postseason success. And with his top assister this season, Julian Gressel, as well as Darlington Nagbe joining Villalba and Amirón in chance creation, it’s a multi-pronged attack that could leave NYC chasing shadows.
A free-flowing attack is only great with an equally-solid defense to balance them out, and there was a welcome return in that department as well this week. Seeing Greg Garza storming up and down the left flank was a warm sight for Five Stripes fans, and will be another major boost for the team’s postseason run. He joins a defensive half as good as any in the league, and one that will be looking for redemption after an uncharacteristic performance in Toronto. But this team has bounced back from dropped points at nearly every opportunity this season, so expect to see a determined side with a chip on their shoulder to start the postseason run.
New York City FC (16-10-8)
Lining up across from Atlanta United will be a New York City FC side that has been an even matchup for the Five Stripes in the teams’ short history so far. Each team won one match last season, while both matchups this season resulted in draws, so it’s as even a history as two teams could have.
After a second-half slump this season, the return of Yangel Herrera to the midfield has coincided with back-to-back wins and a feeling of momentum in the Bronx. Herrera joins Alex Ring in the center of the park to form one of the stoutest defensive midfield partnerships in MLS, and with the narrow field at Yankee Stadium, it will be key to spread them out to create space in the attack. As always, David Villa remains the team’s talisman up top, but is joined by a more multi-faceted attack than in years past. Ismael Tajouri-Shradi has 11 goals in just 18 starts for New York in his first season in MLS, including a stunner to take the lead over the Philadelphia Union in Wednesday night’s knockout match. Meanwhile, Argentine playmaker Maxi Moralez comes into the match in a stellar run of form, and will be constantly looking to pull the strings from the creative attacking midfield spot.
In the back, Maxime Chanot and Alex Callens from a strong back line pairing in front of Georgia native Sean Johnson in goal. And Anton Tinnerholm and newly-capped U.S. international Ben Sweat will try to lock down the wings, while offering support to the attack along the flanks. It’s one of the most balanced teams in the league from front to back, and a squad that historically enjoys a considerable home field advantage when playing at Yankee Stadium. But the Five Stripes were the first team all season to take a point there earlier this season, so they’ll be just as confident in their ability to do so again to kick off their postseason run.
With the team’s postseason lives on the line, this is a match you absolutely won’t want to miss. Make sure to tune in to FS1 at 7:30 p.m. EST on Sunday or click here for everything you need to know about how to follow the match.