Atlanta United Uses 7-Minute Sprint to Run Over NYCFC

May 28, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta United midfielder Miguel Almiron (10) dribbles past New York City FC midfielder Alexander Ring (8) in the second half at Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

By CHRISTIAN ARAOS

NYCFC logoNew York City FC gift wrapped Atlanta United’s revenge.

Atlanta seized on NYCFC’s mistakes to score three goals in seven first-half minutes en route to a 3–1 win Sunday at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Miguel Almirón scored twice and Héctor Villalba added another as Atlanta (5-4-3, 18 points) reversed the scoreline from the teams’ first two meetings. Jack Harrison scored in the second half for City (6-5-2, 20), which will only collect four points from its four-game road trip.

The first 10 minutes went to plan for New York City as it put Atlanta under pressure forcing turnovers in the United end. David Villa ominously miscued an open opportunity and Rodney Wallace had a look from inside the box blocked as the attack seemed destined to score even earlier than it did on May 1, then the mistakes came.

Wallace and Ben Sweat ran into each other trying to get under an Atlanta goal kick and Alexander Ring lost the second ball allowing Villalba time to run to the edge of the area and slip Julian Gressel through. As City’s defense converged, Gressel cut back for an unmarked Almirón to finish from the top of the six-yard box.

Mikey Lopez was powerless to stop Yamil Asad three minutes later as the winger slipped by him with a subtle fake. Asad spotted Villalba making a run into the left channel and played him through on goal. Maxime Chanot desperately slid but, Villalba curled his finish into the far corner.

The outburst would finish on 23 minutes as Gressel hounded Alexander Callens as he tried to pursue a long diagonal. Though City Coach Patrick Vieira insinuated that Gressel fouled Callens, replays show Callens clipping his own heels and his falling over allowed Gressel to collect and run into area from the right. Gressel lifted his head and cut back to Almirón for his second goal.

“The first goal we made a mistake because two players went for the ball and our recovery wasn’t good,” Vieira said. “When two players go for the ball and none of them win it, we create the space and become vulnerable. The second goal, a foul on Callens but the referee didn’t give it, if it was another referee he may give it. I think we put ourselves in a difficult position against the quality players they have on their team. Then when you concede a goal in 17 minutes, then 19 minutes and 25 minutes, it is difficult to for us to get something from the game.”

Atlanta’s forward pressure wreaked havoc on NYCFC for much of the game, particularly on City’s fullbacks. Ethan White and Sweat were disconnected from their wingers and pinned deep in the flanks within their own half. White only completed 59 percent of his passes before being substituted in the 59th minute and Sweat was limited to making short passes to the midfield.

Atlanta’s forwards did not have a shot for 52 minutes but were so tenacious with their pressure that it didn’t matter. Their constant pressure on Callens and Sean Johnson when in possession caused them to rush their decisions and choosing to hoof it when an outlet was available. Perhaps City was spared from Josef Martínez who narrowly missed a return from injury.

Kdt97J4h9Q3yuQ1c“[The early goals] made it difficult because of the quality of the players they have up front,” Vieira said. “They put us under pressure, they played well, they were aggressive especially in the first half. They won a lot of 50-50 balls. When a team like that wins all of the 50-50s it becomes more difficult for us because they have more desire than us.”

R.J. Allen came on for White and Atlanta began to scale down its pressure. Both allowed City to improve during the second half. Allen, naturally comfortable on the ball, was able to help the attack build from the back which came easier for them to do with Atlanta dropping deep off. Despite the improved play in possession, City found their goal through a counterattack.

Ring intercepted an errant corner and led a break that eventually led to Sweat having the ball on right wing. Sweat whipped in a cross that evaded Tyrone Mears‘ head and landed into Harrison’s path allowing him to hit a first-time finish with his left foot. The goal was Harrison’s fifth, surpassing his total from last season. He also completed the 90 minutes for the first time since April 29. Although New York City committed numbers forward by subbing on Ugo Okoli and Thomas McNamara, Harrison’s 71st minute goal would be their last shot on target.

“Credit to them,” Harrison said. “They pressed us very well. They made it very hard for us to play. They finished their chances when they could and I think that was the biggest thing. As soon as they got the second goal and the third one, it gave us a big mountain to climb. We just have to be wary of that in the future.”

Lopez tweeted after the game that a fan had called him a homophobic slur. Andrea Pirlo and Ronald Matarrita were listed as questionable on the injury report but did not make the 18 for Sunday’s game — the first of three this week for New York City. It will host the New England Revolution on Wednesday without Ring who picked up his fifth yellow card and a one-game suspension.