If the last two matches mean anything, it’s possible that New York City got its groove back at the right time.
After knocking out the Philadelphia Union 3-1 in the Bronx Wednesday night – almost as smoothly as they took them down in the regular season finale just three days earlier – NYCFC is making a case for themselves to be considered potential MLS Cup contenders for the first time since the beginning of the season.
Between home-field advantage to start the postseason and getting everyone back and healthy thanks to a three-week break in October, NYCFC has everything laid out in front of them to spark a possibly deep playoff run.
“Maybe this is our best moment because we recovered many players and we play much better here,” head coach Domenec Torrent said after City’s win Wednesday night. “What’s important for us is our team is getting better and, right now, they are in top form.”
With just one change in the lineup for NYCFC on Wednesday night – Ismael Tajouri-Shradi in over Jesus Medina – they started hot out of the gates, once again scoring the opening goal in the first 15 minutes and going up 2-0 shortly after for the second straight match.
“Of course we are a good team,” the goal-scorer Tajouri-Shradi said. “We can play one this game and another the next game. We have many good options.”
WHAT A FINISH BY ISMAEL TAJOURI! 💥
And what a start for NYCFC in the 2018 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs 🔥 pic.twitter.com/Z8xpORSkoe
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) October 31, 2018
The chances that NYCFC is creating early on, and the team’s refreshed sense of ferocity in the attack, is reminiscent to the start of NYCFC’s time under Torrent compared to the struggles faced in the final three months of the regular season. But the biggest part to NYCFC’s sudden resurgence as the MLS playoffs begin is that the team is finally healthy.
“I think, obviously, we are more focused right now and it’s not a secret that in the last month of the regular season we did pretty bad,” David Villa said. “It looks like we’re in a position where everyone is healthy.”
Yangel Herrera’s return has been particularly vital. In just two-plus matches back after taking five months off to ankle surgery, Herrera has made the biggest impact in NYCFC’s midfield. On his initial return in the club’s 3-1 loss at D.C. United in the penultimate game of the season, Herrera stepped onto the field and immediately contributed an assist to Villa’s goal. In the last two matches against Philadelphia, Herrera’s brought back the box-to-box physicality and hustle City’s midfield has missed during the last three months.
Along with Alex Ring on the defensive side and Maxi Moralez helping guide the way in the attack, NYCFC’s midfield has potentially become a sudden force as the postseason gets underway.
“The kid, Herrera, he’s a top player,” Union head coach Jim Curtain said. “Not just in our league. He’s a top player. For a [20-year-old] off of a five, six-month injury, to step into games and playing back-to-back, 90 minutes in two days, you can see how valuable he is to their group.
“It’s a team that can beat anyone in our league, certainly, and obviously the home field advantage they have here is the best in the league.”
Including Sunday’s regular-season finale, NYCFC’s match against Atlanta in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semis marks their third-straight match at home. The last time NYCFC had such a home stretch, they won three straight at home and one on the road at Orlando back in July. Although NYCFC entered the postseason losing 10 of their final 13 matches,
“We have good momentum,” Ring said to the media. “Atlanta hasn’t played for a week now and I remember last year, when we didn’t play the week, it was hard to get into the game in Columbus when they played before us.”
NYCFC played to a pair of draws against Atlant Uniteda during the regular season, however, both matches were with Patrick Vieira at the helm, not Torrent.