Atlanta United vs. NYCFC: Who has the edge?

A position-by-position look at today’s MLS playoff matchup between Atlanta United and NYCFC at Yankee Stadium.

The return leg will be played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on  Nov. 11.

Because the game will be played at the ridiculously small pitch at Yankee Stadium, my choice for which group gets the advantage will be slightly skewed toward NYCFC.

Goalkeeper

Atlanta United’s Brad Guzan vs. NYCFC’s Sean Johnson

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Guzan has experienced the shooting gallery that is Yankee Stadium, making a franchise-record nine saves in the 1-1 draw there earlier this season. 

Johnson has, perhaps unfairly, developed a reputation as a solid goalkeeper who will make the occasional gaffe.

Guzan’s goal-against average is 1.27. Johnson’s is 1.28.

Advantage: Atlanta United

Centerbacks

Atlanta United’s Michael Parkhurst and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez vs. NYCFC’s Maxime Chanot and Alexander Callens

Parkhurst, a finalist for league defender of the year, and Gonzalez Pirez are among the top three centerback tandems in MLS. Gonzalez Pirez is more physical, while Parkhurst more cerebral. They can get pulled out of position, as evidenced in last week’s loss at Toronto.

Chanot and Callens have been quietly solid for NYCFC, whose 45 goals allowed are just one more than Atlanta United’s 44.

They have allowed a league-low 10 (tied with Red Bulls) at home this season.

Advantage: NYCFC, because the game is at Yankee Stadium. I would say Atlanta United if the first game were at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Fullbacks

Atlanta United’s Julian Gressel and Greg Garza vs. NYCFC’s Anton Tinnerholm and Ben Sweat

This is a guess that Atlanta United will use a 4-2-3-1 or 3-5-2 with Gressel as a fullback or wingback. He has played as a traditional fullback before, but is more naturally a winger or midfielder. This may be Garza’s first start since returning from a shoulder injury. Both players are arguably better going forward (Gressel has 14 assists) than they are defending. That is a bit worrisome in this game.

Tinnerholm (4 goals, 6 assists) and Sweat aren’t thought of as one of the better fullback pairings, but are very effective at Yankee Stadium. Tinnerholm, in particular, can be present a lot of problems.

Advantage: NYCFC

Holding midfielders

Atlanta United’s Jeff Larentowicz and Eric Remedi vs. NYCFC’s Alexander Ring and Yangel Herrera.

Larentowicz had a poor game at Toronto. His errant pass led to Toronto’s first goal. Neither he nor Remedi have looked as sharp in recent weeks as they did during the summer. But this game will be about tackling and quickly distributing the ball forward. They are good at that.

Herrera’s return from injury has transformed NYCFC. He is fast, physical, and likely headed elsewhere next season once his loan is up. Ring is a fouling machine, but not that’s a bad thing. He is underrated, in my opinion.

Advantage: NYCFC

Attacking midfielders

Atlanta United’s Miguel Almiron, Darlington Nagbe and Hector Villalba vs. NYCFC’s Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, Maxi Moralez and Ronald Matarrita

Almiron was forced out of the game at Yankee Stadium because of an injury. I’m not sure he will start tonight, but you may see him depending upon circumstances. Nagbe is playing well and it’s about time that he scored. Villalba was playing the best soccer of his career before an injury sidelined him again. He returned last week to play in the second half at Toronto.

Tajouri-Shradi, Moralez and Matarrita are very quick and move well at Yankee Stadium. They can be hard to track and they are constantly looking for Villa.

Advantage: If Almiron plays, Atlanta United. If he doesn’t, NYCFC.

Strikers

Atlanta United’s Josef Martinez vs. NYCFC’s David Villa

Martinez scored 31 goals this season, but only three have come since breaking the record at Orlando City in late August. Still, he smashed the MLS scoring record and is a constant threat. The problem he will experience today is the field is so short, he won’t have the space to use his speed to blow past defenders. Instead, he will have to use his unreal leaping ability. He may be used more as a hold-up striker in this game, rather than a scorer.

Villa is Villa, one of the greatest scorers of his generation.

Advantage: Atlanta United

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