The Boys in Blue were back in action at Yankee Stadium once again. The home turf defense began against Atlanta United in another cold Saturday fixture. As expected, NYCFC had to turn things around after the results on the road, but the rival had enough tools to complicate things. Expectations were high with Talles Magno stepping away from the striker role and Atlanta with a World Cup winner in their roster. A match where the 3 points became essential to the momentum of both teams going forward.
A missed opportunity for NYCFC:
A positive result becomes vital when you face an opponent that matches your game style. In short, if you can’t win, don’t lose either. It paints a picture of how the game unfolded. NYCFC didn’t have the best of starts in comparison to previous home matches. Atlanta took hold of the game quickly. It took them 20 minutes to create danger, luckily, VAR disallowed Derrick Etienne’s goal for Atlanta United.
At first glance, it looked to be an offside ruling, but it turned out to be a handball at the beginning of the play. Had that not been the case, it would have given Atlanta enough confidence to control the match’s tempo at a convenient moment.
Aside from that, NYCFC failed to connect in the first half, and the midfield was not able to connect with the same consistency as in previous games. However, on the plus side, Talles Magno displayed a better image on the field. Playing in his natural position indeed brought his confidence back. In addition, Gabe Segal managed to have his second start in the striker position. He created a few chances, but he has to continue working, he’s on the right track to becoming the striker the team is looking for.
Once the second half started, it became a one-man show. Luis Barraza made two critical saves that could have changed the course of the match. However, the most important one came after he saved a one-on-one chance against Thiago Almada. On paper and for bragging rights, he denied a World Cup winner and Player of the Month a chance to score. But in collective terms, he kept NYCFC in the game.
The downside to Barraza having key moments in games is that it highlights the team’s lack of goal-scoring chances week after week. If anything, that has become the main area of criticism. What’s the point of having a strong midfield and a good defensive line if the team doesn’t score? You win games by scoring, after all. But as I said before, Gabe Segal needs time to build chemistry, that doesn’t happen from one day to the next. But at this rate, time might not be on NYCFC’s side, or at least that’s how the fanbase feels.
Another shadow following NYCFC is set-piece plays. Yes, the once-secret weapon for the Boys In Blue has come back to haunt them. Atlanta United exposed this weakness on home turf after a corner kick was poorly defended. Giorgos Giakoumakis anticipated everyone inside the box and placed the first goal of the match in the 70th minute. A header that left Barraza helpless after saving consecutive chances prior to the goal. It seemed to be the knockout hit for NYCFC at that point. Atlanta, with 10 men after Franco Ibarra was sent off after a harsh tackle on James Sands, seemed to have the game secured. Winning away from home and scoring late in the match gives any visiting team confidence to close the game in their favor. But NYCFC played their cards right and responded right away in the 72nd minute.
Gabriel Pereira, with a great strike from outside of the box, leveled the game for NYCFC. The super sub made an immediate impact and sent a message in the process. He made it clear he can’t be benched after his goal saved the team from falling defeated at home.
The team didn’t win in the end, but it also didn’t lose. Talles Magno had a last-minute chance during the 10-minute stoppage time period, but a defender was able to block the shot in the nick of time. Yes, it’s not the result anyone wanted at home, but it’s important to add up points. I may sound over-optimistic, but this is a team in transition. Things will take time to connect and work properly. Until that happens, any result that doesn’t result in dropping points is always positive. The manager himself acknowledged that these results at home don’t help. But knowing that Atlanta United was a direct rival in terms of playing style made him praise the result, despite being a “missed opportunity.”