Same fire. Different tactics. Whatever may be needed, Atlanta United says it will be ready for the next leg of the MLS Eastern Conference semifinal series against NYCFC. Atlanta United won the first leg, 1-0, Sunday at Yankee Stadium. The second leg will be at 5 p.m. on Nov. 11 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“It’s just concentration for 90 minutes every week,” said Atlanta United’s Jeff Larentowicz, one of two playes on the team who have won an MLS Cup. “We said it coming into today, no simple mistakes, no letting each other down, going back to the grit and determination that has gotten us here the last two years. If we come with that same energy, then we’ll be alright, but it’s difficult you can’t think everything else will take care of itself, you have to concentrate on everything.”
Atlanta United’s concentration was evident throughout Sunday’s win and will be needed again because NYCFC is going to push hard.
The midfielders, led by Larentowicz, Eric Remedi and Darlington Nagbe, who won an MLS Cup with Portland, limited the influence of Maxi Moralez by rarely letting him dribble forward. They never relaxed, which may have given Moralez the split-second that he sometimes needs to open defenses. They were also hyper-focused for the entire game on striker David Villa. NYCFC finished with eight shots, but none were on goal.
“I think given our position now, Atlanta is going to be a final,” NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson said. “We win and we give ourselves a chance. It’s one goal. If we score two, it’s gonna be a fight. So we just have to treat it like that and It’s gonna be an exciting game.”
The fight may be the same, but the ring will be different, and it should help Atlanta United.
The field will be much bigger and, because it is turf, in much better condition than was the pitch at Yankee Stadium.
Should Atlanta United want to play out of the back -- a tactic it typically used but eschewed on Sunday in favor of long balls over the lines of players -- it probably will be able to.
“In a playoff game of 90 minutes or two legs of 180 minutes, the team who has the most success is the team that commits the fewest errors,” Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino said. “So maybe today we weren't as strict trying to play out of the back."
But Atlanta United is glad to know that can go back to that if it needs to in the next leg.
“There may be times that we will need to play direct,” Brad Guzan said. “But we know we have that in the locker room. We have that ability to change up our game and that’s going to be more important. A lot of teams when they look at us, they think Atlanta United is going to play out of the back at all cost. Tonight we showed that we have a different element to us that when the going gets tough, and things go a bit against us, that we can roll up our sleeves and compete.”
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