Two words that don’t sit well with Atlanta United after last year’s loss to Columbus on penalty kicks, 3-1, in the Knockout Round of the MLS playoffs.
Back in the playoffs and holding an advantage over NYCFC after winning 1-0 at Yankee Stadium, Atlanta United has begun preparing for the possibility of penalty kicks should Sunday’s second leg at Mercedes-Benz Stadium end tied. Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino on Friday implied that he hasn’t started considering who will take penalty kicks should they be needed because they hope to win in regulation.
Penalty kicks would be necessary if the game remains tied after 90 minutes of regulation and 30 minutes of extra time. The teams alternate taking the kicks. The team that makes the most out of five wins the game and series. Should the teams still remain tied after five kicks, it goes to sudden death rounds. Should one team miss after another makes, or vice versa, in sudden death, it loses.
Atlanta United’s players have worked on the kicks, taken 12 yards from goal. Even centerback Michael Parkhurst, who has scored one goal in his MLS career and take one shot in two years with Atlanta United, has taken a few because he assumes he will be on the field should the game need penalty kicks.
“I don’t know if I’ll bump Josef (Martinez) out of the top five in order to take a penalty,” Parkhurst said. “It’s a little different in training when you take multiple ones in a row. I think I know where I’m going to go if I take one.”
Atlanta United is 12-of-14 on penalty kicks this season. Martinez is 8-of-9 and Miguel Almiron 4-of-5. New York City successfully converted three penalty kicks this season. David Villa is 2-of-3 and Maxi Moralez 1-of-1.
Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan has saved one of seven penalty kicks faced this season. New York’s Sean Johnson has saved 2-of-3 penalty kicks he has faced.
Guzan said its difficult to practice facing penalty kicks during training because the conditions aren’t the same as they will be in Sunday’s game.
“Nine times out of 10 it’s fairly easy to go on training field with no spectators, no pressure from outside,” he said. “It’s when you get into pressure-filled moments, when you have to step up in front of 72,000, with everything riding on one spot kick. That’s when it become a little more difficult channeling those emotions and channeling that pressure and obviously scoring.
“From a goalkeeping standpoint, you want to try to get into a rhythm and then we will probably look at a few things.”