Atlanta United preparing for challenges of Yankee Stadium

Atlanta United defeated NYCFC 1-0 at Yankee Stadium in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Credit: Eric Rossitch

Credit: Eric Rossitch

Atlanta United defeated NYCFC 1-0 at Yankee Stadium in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

The dimensions of the soccer field at Yankee Stadium, the site of Atlanta United’s playoff game Sunday, are the FIFA minimum for international matches: 70 yards wide by 110 yards long.

But what’s written on paper doesn’t pass the eye test.

Listen to Atlanta United manager Gonzalo Pineda and the team’s players, and review what others have said about playing on the tiny pitch, and it seems that those dimensions, like taxes, may be fudged a bit. One MLS manager said it’s actually 68 by 106. It may not seem like a big difference but when compared with Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s dimensions of 75 by 115, the difference of 1,417 square yards may feel like the size of the Pentagon during the game.

But Atlanta United is a believer that size doesn’t matter.

“If we win or we lose it won’t be because of the size of the field,” Pineda said. “We will because we’ve played good or bad. And that’s that’s my approach to that.”

Pineda is a smart manager. He replicated what Atlanta United thinks the size of the field is on one of their training pitches to help the players adjust. Very few of the players have experienced the claustrophobia of Yankee Stadium. Of the team’s typical starters, only striker Josef Martinez, midfielder Ezequiel Barco, wingback Brooks Lennon, centerback Miles Robinson and goalkeeper Brad Guzan have played there. Pineda played there once in 2015, helping Seattle win 3-0, and managed two game there as an assistant at Seattle in June 2017 and July 2019. Seattle lost both.

Atlanta United hasn’t played there since 2019. It has played four games there, winning one, tying one and losing two, with four goals scored and eight against. The two teams met earlier this season in a game at Red Bull Arena. NYCFC won that 1-0.

“It’s smaller dimensions than the rest of the fields that we’re used to playing on. I think, for a spectator, the sight lines and the views are a little bit thrown off,” Atlanta United Vice President Carlos Bocanegra said. “But I don’t want to talk too much about that. It’s more on field, we know we have to go there Sunday, and try and get a result. We know it’s gonna be difficult. I think NYC is one of the most talented teams in our league.”

On offense, Atlanta United typically plays its best when it can spread the field to create one-on-one matchups for Luiz Araujo, Ezequiel Barco, Josef Martinez, Marcelino Moreno or wingbacks Lennon and George Bello.

That will be almost impossible Sunday because the players typically will be within an arm’s reach of each other. A one-on-one will become a one-vs-two in a split-second.

Lennon said the team is tweaking its tactics to try to adjust. Centerback George Campbell said the team is working on quickly moving the ball from one side of the field to the other.

As for the defense, Guzan said the team must be alert at all times. Because the field is so short, one pass by an opposing defender at Yankee Stadium can result in a shot on goal by a teammate.

Optically, as Bocanegra referenced, playing there is just odd. There are no stands running exactly parallel to the sidelines or touchlines. It can be visually weird, according to the players.

Guzan said a key is to try to get used to the sight lines during warm-ups.

It’s just another of the challenges of playing at Yankee Stadium.

“That stadium was not meant for soccer games, so you try your best to get acclimated as quick as possible,” Guzan said. “And I’ll tell you one thing: The ref is not going to wait for us to say ‘Hey ....‘ He’s gonna start the game, and when that whistle blows, we have got to be ready to go.”

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Atlanta United’s playoff schedule

Nov. 21 at NYCFC, 3 p.m., ABC

Atlanta United’s 2021 MLS schedule

April 17 Atlanta United 0, Orlando 0

April 24 Atlanta United 3, Chicago 1

May 1 New England 2, Atlanta United 1

May 9 Atlanta United 1, Inter Miami 1

May 15 Atlanta United 1, Montreal 0

May 23 Atlanta United 1, Seattle 1

May 29 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2

June 20 Atlanta United 2, Philadelphia 2

June 23 NYCFC 1, Atlanta United 0

June 27 Atlanta United 0, New York Red Bulls 0

July 3 Chicago 3, Atlanta United 0

July 8 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2

July 17 New England 1, Atlanta United 0

July 21 Atlanta United 1, Cincinnati 1

July 24 Columbus 1, Atlanta United 0

July 30 Orlando 3, Atlanta United 2

Aug. 4 Atlanta United 2, Montreal 2

Aug. 7 Atlanta United 3, Columbus 2

Aug. 15 Atlanta United 1, LAFC 0

Aug. 18 Atlanta United 1, Toronto 0

Aug. 21 Atlanta United 2, D.C. United 1

Aug. 28 Nashville 2, Atlanta United 0

Sept. 10 Atlanta United 3, Orlando 0

Sept. 15 Atlanta United 4, Cincinnati 0

Sept. 18 Atlanta United 3, D.C. United 2

Sept. 25 Philadelphia 1, Atlanta United 0

Sept. 29 Atlanta United 1, Inter Miami 0

Oct. 2 Montreal 2, Atlanta United 1

Oct. 16 Atlanta United 2, Toronto 0

Oct. 20 Atlanta United 1, NYCFC 1

Oct. 27 Atlanta United 2, Miami 1

Oct. 30 Atlanta United 1, Toronto1

Nov. 3 Atlanta United 0, New York Red Bulls 0

Nov. 7 Atlanta United 2, Cincinnati 1