Tata Martino’s time in charge of Atlanta United isn’t over just yet.
In front of a raucous and thankful Mercedes-Benz Stadium crowd, Atlanta United advanced with a 3-1 win over NYCFC to advance to the Eastern Conference finals on a 4-1 aggregate scoreline. Josef Martinez opened the scoring by converting a penalty that featured a ridiculously colorful run-up, and Miguel Almiron delivered an exquisite free-kick to seal the deal before halftime to leave the result in little doubt.
NYCFC defender Maxime Chanot deposited an absurdly free header on a set-piece just before halftime to make things interesting, but the visitors failed to produce much with the 70% possession they held throughout the match. Martinez put the game away late as he got behind an incredibly high NYCFC back line and snatched an Eric Remedi through-ball, finishing past Sean Johnson to send the hosts through.
NYCFC playmaker Yangel Herrera struggled mightily in the first half and was yanked at halftime by manager Domenec Torrent. His replacement Valentin Castellano wasn’t able to do much more, and NYCFC ultimately was left with little to cling to, eliminated from the MLS playoffs in the Eastern Conference semifinals for the third straight year.
Martino announced he is leaving Atlanta United at the end of the season, but will continue to see them through the playoffs as they reach the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in franchise history, set to face either Columbus or RBNY. Atlanta suffered a disappointing knockout round exit in their first year of existence last season.
Atlanta United used a first-half goal – after another was wiped off – to earn a gritty first-leg win over NYCFC at Yankee Stadium on Sunday evening. Eric Remedi scored the game’s lone goal after Miguel Almiron had one negated on replay 17 minutes earlier. They would lock things up from there – without Almiron in the second half – keeping NYCFC without a shot on target all game.
The opening 15 minutes was incredibly chippy as both teams began with a physical brand of play. A plethora of fouls led to some heated attitudes and fed the choppy flow. NYCFC seemed to have the better attacking mindset in the opening few minutes, but it would be Atlanta that found the back of the net first, or so they thought.
It was a bit of a fluky goal as Almiron – back from his muscle injury – took a swipe at a cross, and he flubbed it, driving it straight into the ground. It popped high up into the air, and managed to chip Sean Johnson into the back of the net. They checked with the VAR crew after the strike, and offside was called earlier as the short corner was played, ruling the goal out.
They would atone, however, as it would be Remedi to earn the opener in the 37th minute. Off a corner, Josef Martínez delivered an absolutely blistering side-volley that Johnson was equal to. The rebound, however, was pushed to the far post where Remedi was waiting for the tap-in.
There were very few chances after the break, as Atlanta held NYCFC without a single shot on target the entire match, while Atlanta had just four of its own. Almiron came off at halftime, and the visitors looked to protect its away goal. NYCFC put together a few good offensive spells, but just couldn’t muster anything for David Villa who came close in a couple of moments but failed to produce a goal.
The win sends Atlanta back home in a great position, owning the lead and an away goal. The only time they played NYCFC at Mercedes-Benz Stadium during the regular season was back in April when the teams played to a 2-2 draw.
Single-elimination games on the tiny pitch at Yankee Stadium is a difficult way to conclude a season, and the Philadelphia Union will be bitter about the end to its campaign following a 3-1 loss to New York City FC in the first round of the MLS Cup Playoffs.
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The stars were out for the East’s No. 3 seed as Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, David Villa, and Maxi Moralez all scored for NYCFC, who will meet No. 2 seed Atlanta United in the conference semifinals.
Cory Burke scored for Philadelphia who lost in the same building by the same score for the second time in four days.
Tajouri-Shradi’s goal was the pick of the bunch, hit with vigor to open the scoring.
The New York City FC fan base and coaching staff received some good news on Thursday evening: Alexander Ring is retiring from international soccer.
In an Instagram post, Ring called it “an extremely hard decision” but one that he made after two years of constant travelling across the Atlantic Ocean. Ring called an end – at least for now – to playing for his native Finland. According to a quick flight search, a non-stop flight between New York and Helsinki, Finland can take upwards of eight hours, and long travel such as that is not conducive to soccer players staying fit, flexible and healthy.
For New York City FC, this is a big boost knowing that a player still in his prime will be focusing solely on his club and not keeping an eye out for a long trip ahead for international fixtures. Ring started five of six World Cup qualifiers in the last run-up to the World Cup and he retires with 43 caps. Heading into the playoff stretch, Ring will also be better rested than he would be if he left in October to train with and play for Finland.
While every person responds to long-distance travel differently, the decision is a bit peculiar. Ring is still young enough to play a major role for Finland ahead of the 2020 Euros, and his 35-year-old teammate David Villa accepted a rare call-up to Spain’s national team within the last 12 months. In addition, players such as Fred of Manchester United or Davinson Sanchez of Tottenham regularly jet-set across the Atlantic Ocean for their national teams.
Either way, it’s a chance for Ring to extend his career while taking better care of his body.
According to a report by Spanish outlet AS, NYCFC is not planning to renew David Villa’s contract at the end of this season.
Villa has become one of the most decorated Designated Players in Major League Soccer history since arriving in 2014, scoring 74 goals over the course of his NYCFC career. Villa won the 2016 MLS MVP and finished one goal behind Golden Boot winner Bradley Wright-Phillips in the scoring rankings that season. He then came up two goals short of the 2017 Golden Boot order behind Nemanja Nikolic.
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The report states that, at 36 years old, Villa could potentially contemplate retirement at the end of the season, having already hung up his international boots four years ago just two caps shy of the 100 mark. According to the report, NYCFC could potentially offer him a front office role, either as a coach or executive.
Villa has missed some time this season due to injury, with knee problems sidelining him for three matches early in the campaign and a knee injury troubling him of late, but he played 71 minutes last weekend against Toronto and scored the opening goal, and is apparently good to go this weekend against Philadelphia. Despite the injuries, Villa is still second on NYCFC in scoring with nine goals, one behind Ismael Tajouri-Shradi for the team lead.
The Spaniard’s career has seen him win titles at the highest level, with a Euro 2008 victory, a World Cup title in 2010, a Champions League victory in 2010/11 with Barcelona, and La Liga championships with both Atletico Madrid and Barcelona.