There have been times that, while playing with 11 men, Atlanta United has been outplayed by its opponents.
Never before has it been dominated for as long a stretch as it was by NYCFC on Saturday at Yankee Stadium.
That the Five Stripes salvaged a 1-1 draw despite being outshot 25-6 is a credit to goalkeeper Brad Guzan, who made a club-record nine saves of all varieties, nine in the second half.
Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino said Guzan was the best player on the field.
Captain Michael Parkhurst said he was a wall.
NYCFC manager Patrick Vieira said he was fantastic and the man of the match.
He needed to be, particularly in the game’s final 30 minutes, but Guzan didn’t seem too impressed with himself.
“We knew it was a hard place to come,” he said. “But we were up for the challenge and the guys in there left everything on the field. It was hot. Things weren’t going our way. Bounces weren’t going our way. Uh, I shouldn’t say that because a few went off the post - just good goalkeeping, right? - No, but we got away with a couple things and so we’re looking at the next one. You know, we even have to grind, and guys for sure did that.”
Taking advantage of its small field that’s unique to MLS (and to most fields around the world), as well as the absence in the second half of Atlanta United’s Miguel Almiron, NYCFC laid siege to Guzan’s goal. David Villa and Maxi Moralez found pockets of space throughout the defense. They took advantage of the time to either pick a pass or run into space. With the fullbacks pushed up to increase the pressure, Atlanta United rarely got out of its own half of the field after taking a 1-0 lead in the 48th minute on a goal by Josef Martinez.
Guzan said the team needs to improve its mentality before it takes on Columbus at MAPFRE Stadium on Wednesday in another important Eastern Conference game.
“We have to get pressure on the ball,” he said. “We have to make sure that we close guys down. We need to have a stronger mentality when we’re not in possession of the ball how we’re going to deal with it.”
Guzan said that starts with improving the organization of the defense. Atlanta United has allowed just 19 goals this season, but it seemed like NYCFC should have added a few more to that total. If it wasn’t Villa or Moralez, it was Jo Inge Berget and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi getting behind the lines and forcing Guzan to make a save.
The tying goal came on a corner kick in which Villa beat his defender to the near post, where he headed the ball to the back post for Alexander Callens to run onto and beat Guzan in the 77th minute.
Columbus’ Gyzai Zardes, who is chasing Martinez for the Golden Boot, is more than capable of finding space during open play or on set pieces.
It’s good to take a point,” Guzan said. “That can’t go unnoticed. But at the same time, we need to make sure that we’re better on Wednesday.”