The weather wasn’t the greatest Sunday evening but the matchup between the top two teams in the MLS Eastern Conference was everything you could ask for. Second-ranked Atlanta United hosted New York City FC, the top club in the Eastern Conference.
The Five Stripes came out in a 3-4-1-2 formation, just a tad different from their usual 5-3-2. Kevin Kratz was in midfield for Tito Villalba and Ezequiel Barco was on the bench.
The chances came early after the whistle. Atlanta’s Leandro Gónzalez-Pirez made two clutch clearances in the first 11 minutes and New York’s Jesús Medina was a constant threat in their attack.
On a counterattack in the 28′, NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson blocked an attempt by Miguel Almirón but Greg Garza poached the ball from the left flank and finished the job to give United the early lead 1-0.
Once David Villa came on to the pitch, the New York attack changed immediately. The pressure was put on United and Jeff Larentowicz ended up fouling Jo Inge Berget inside the box. A penalty kick was given and David Villa converted the try to draw the match 1-1.
Soon after, Darlington Nagbe thought he bagged his first goal of the season from about 20-yards out but VAR called it back to keep the match tied up. Luckily, soon after, a header from Chris McCann (assist by Almirón) flew by Johnson to give United the lead.
One statistic that stood out (that was easy to see in the match as well) was possession. NYCFC had 57.5% possession and having Villa in the match gave them the boost they needed.
There was never a dull moment in the match. The top two teams played like the top two teams and New York rose to the occasion when they were down. When you’re in a crunch, you depend on your leader to step up, and that leader is David Villa. The assist man from España teamed up with Alexander Ring who nailed one past Brad Guzan to tie the game once again.
The traveling away section of supporters went mad while the rest of the stadium was in a hush. In hindsight, the Five Stripes should’ve won. That VAR call affected the match and took back what would’ve been Nagbe’s first goal of the season. But these will be the growing pains with VAR so we might as well get used to it.
My Man of the Match is Miguel Almirón. His positioning, pace, and drawing defenders off the ball (along with his two assists) is what did it for me. He had a great night and almost had a goal. The highlight for Atlanta fans was seeing their beloved Ezequiel Barco take the pitch since suffering his hamstring injury from last month.
The Five Stripes will get back to training for their April 21 matchup with the LA Galaxy in Los Angeles.
Photo: Hakim Wright