On Saturday, June 9th NYCFC will host Atlanta United to fight for first place in the Eastern Conference and the Supporters’ Shield race. City’s most important game of the season will also potentially be Patrick Vieira’s last, with multiple sources reporting he will be headed to OGC Nice after the weekend. Coming off a second 4-0 loss to our cross-state rivals in the Cup, and news that midfielder Yangel Herrera will miss the rest of the season due to an ankle injury, NYCFC will be forced to turn the tide. Fortunately, there is no better place to do just that than in the Bronx, where City is 6-0-0 on the season, outscoring opponents 18 to 2.
While there is a chance that NYCFC line up in a 3-5-2, most fans will be rooting for the mainstay 4-3-3 before the team sheet is released on Saturday. The proof lies in City’s last game in the Bronx, last week against Orlando. Although taking a 1-0 lead to the locker room at halftime, the boys in blue were outplayed in the first half rather thoroughly. The second half began with a substitution of Ben Sweat, reverting to our usual back four, and city never took their foot off the gas, cruising to a 3-0 victory.
While I would not personally choose Jo Inge Berget to start, I believe that Patrick Vieira will, as he has countless times this season. David Villa, Maxi Moralez, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, Alex Ring, and Anton Tinnerholm should all start after being rested on Wednesday. The absence of Yangel Herrera should allow Ebenezer Ofori to start, with the real lineup decisions coming at the back. With Maxime Chanot now healthy and with 90’ under his belt on Wednesday, I believe that NYCFC will give him the start again on Saturday, alongside defensive partner Alexander Callens, slotting Ben Sweat at fullback. Do not be surprised, however, to see both Centre Backs and Sebastien Ibeagha get the start, allowing freedom for Anton Tinnerholm to get forward on the right.
In league play, NYCFC’s form has been erratic due to formation changes in recent weeks. Coming off a 3-0 victory at home against Orlando, however, City look to finally get a win against a formidable Eastern Conference opponent.
Defeating a 9-man Philadelphia Union side 3-1 in their last league match, Atlanta United and the big three of Josef Martinez, Miguel Almirón, and Ezequiel Barco look to prove themselves and justify their sky-high reputation across MLS.
Earlier this season on April 15th, NYCFC and Atlanta United drew 2-2 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in front of a sell-out crowd of 45,000+ fans. The hype around the game was justified, with both teams playing positive football and moving as a unit up and down the pitch. Greg Garza opened the scoring on a rebounded shot off Sean Johnson, but NYCFC responded with a David Villa penalty, won by Jo Inge Berget. A header from Chris McCann broke the deadlock in minute 56’, before Alex Ring scored the goal of the season for NYCFC thus far with a strike from about 25 yards out. The match ended with a rightful score line of 2-2.
Atlanta United and NYCFC sit first and second place in the Eastern Conference respectively. Both sides look to be the first club in Major League Soccer in 2018 to reach 30 points, and NYCFC will attempt to continue their perfect form at home thus far through six contests.
NYCFC: Ismael Tajouri-Shradi
With seven goals on only eight shots on target, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi has been the most efficient player in MLS this season. His production is all the more impressive because he has only played 554 minutes this season, almost 300 less than teammate Jo Inge Berget. For the last two seasons, NYCFC supporters have been looking for a forward to consistently score alongside David Villa, and it seems as though we may have finally found him in the 24-year-old Winger.
Atlanta United: Miguel Almirón
While Josef Martinez has been receiving the majority of the spotlight this season, Miguel Almirón has been the team MVP of Atlanta United. First in the league in shots with 72 and second in shots on goal with 24, Almirón makes Atlanta the attacking powerhouse neutrals love to watch. Taking a look at Advanced Statistics, Almirón is first in Major League Soccer with 15.37 expected goals plus assists. Atlanta United run on Miguel Almirón, and stopping him will be priority number one in Patrick Vieira’s game plan.
Goals: David Villa (8), Ismael Tajouri-Shradi (7), Maxi Moralez (6)
Assists: Jesus Medina (5), Maxi Moralez (5), David Villa (3)
Home Goals: David Villa (5)
Goals: Josef Martínez (12), Miguel Almirón (6), Ezequiel Barco (3)
Assists: Miguel Almirón (6), Julian Gressel (4), Greg Garza and Darlington Nagbe (3)
Away Goals: Josef Martinez (4)
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Watch NYCFC v Atlanta on YES Network at 12:30 ET or Listen on WNYE 91.5 FM