United FC-New York City FC Preview
New York City FC head coach Ronny Deila admitted his side will learn from previous playoff experiences as they prepare to host Atlanta United.
The Pigeons secured their playoff berth in the Eastern Conference a home tie on Decision Day, with a comeback draw against Philadelphia Union.
Indeed, the Boys in Blue have qualified for the MLS Cup Playoffs for a sixth consecutive year, though their last post-season outing ended controversially with a loss against Orlando City SC.
"I know that you have to be ready for the unexpected for sure," Deila said of lessons learned from that experience. "Hopefully we don't get the drama of that with so many decisions from referees and other things.
"There was a lot of things going on there. But we're ready. We know what we are playing for and what we want, and just the experience last year I think makes us even more prepared for what is coming.
"I know that everybody will give me what I want. And the togetherness and team spirit is strong. We have so many times this year, different players … they've come on and have done a good job of how they are impacting the game."
The Five Stripes were on an eight-game winless run at one point, but lost just three of 16 games since Gonzalo Pineda's arrival and confirmed their playoff spot with a 2-1 win over struggles FC Cincinnati.
Carlos Bocanegra, who is the Atlanta vice president and newly appointed technical director, pointed to their recent successes as he outlined plans for further triumphs.
"We've had some success, we've had some failures and had some struggles," Bocanegra said.
"We're back in the playoffs. We still have lofty ambitions. We want to compete for championships every year. We're always trying to get better. We want to be the premier team on this continent."
New York City FC - Valentin Castellanos
Valentin Castellanos has loved playing at Yankee Stadium the last two years, scoring 13 goals in 12 matches there, one more than in 43 regular season and playoff matches in all other stadiums in that time.
Atlanta United - Marcelino Moreno
Marcelino Moreno was third in the MLS regular season in terms of duels won, winning 239 of the 441 which he contested, and he scored nine goals, second only to Josef Martinez, who had 12 to lead the Five Stripes.
●New York City FC had its best season against Atlanta United in the short history of the rivalry, collecting four points in the two games this season. NYCFC had just two wins and two draws (L4) in the first three seasons the sides met in MLS (no meetings in 2020).
●This is the second playoff meeting between New York City FC and Atlanta United, with the Five Stripes advancing, 4-2 on aggregate, in the 2018 Eastern Conference Semifinals. All of Atlanta's playoff games have been played either in Atlanta or at a New York side.
●New York City is making its sixth straight playoff appearance, the third longest active run in MLS (Seattle 13, Red Bulls 12). NYCFC has advanced only once in their five previous postseason appearances, beating the Union, 3-1, in the first round in 2018. Maximiliano Moralez (1 goal, 2 assists) contributed to all three goals on that day.
●The 2021 season was split down the middle for Atlanta, who had 15 points in its first 17 games (W2 D9 L6), the third worst mark in MLS in a team's first 17 games this season. Only the Revs (37 points) had a better second 17 games than Atlanta (36 points - W11 D3 L3).
●Ezequiel Barco has been the bellwether for Atlanta over the last two seasons. The Five Stripes have won each of the last nine MLS matches in which Barco has scored dating back to April 2019, including all six games in which he found the net in 2021.
Updated November 20, 2021