For around twelve minutes, New York City controlled this game. It looked as though they’d build on their dominant victory over Orlando, and keep pace with Toronto and Chicago in the East. A grueling road trip might be crowned with back-to-back wins -- something extraordinarily difficult to do in this league.
Twice, Atlanta players whiffed on the ball as New York City turned up the pressure. It seemed only a matter of time before a panicking Atlanta unit would surrender a goal to NYCFC.
Then, in a nightmare span of seven minutes, Atlanta tore the Blues to shreds. New York City — so potent in mastering Atlanta at home — was utterly helpless in the onslaught. Atlanta’s talismanic number 10, Miguel Almiron, got the party started in the 16th minute.
A midfield turnover found Atlanta with all kinds of space. As New York City’s defense frantically tried to recover, rookie Julian Gressel streaked into the open space. The cutback from Gressel found Almiron with all kinds of space and time to score; all Almiron had to do was simply shoot. He did, giving the hosts a 1-0 lead.
The Blues were still trying to make sense of it all when Atlanta got in gear once more. The Five Stripes charged forward, led by Tito Villalba. Again, the defensive breakdown was massive; Villalba had all the time in the world to size up his shot — and he did not miss.
Two shots. Two goals.
But wait — there was worse to come. In the 23rd minute, Atlanta defender Jeff Larentowicz sent a deep, deep searching ball down the field. His lofted pass found a streaking Gressel, who smartly shoved off a desperately recovering Alexander Callens. It wasn’t immediately clear in the run of play whether Gressel had clipped Callens, but replays show that Callens simply tripped himself up.
Regardless, Gressel now found himself all alone in the NYCFC box. He merely had to square up the pass for Almiron, which he did. Almiron scored.
Three shots. Three goals. Atlanta 3, New York City 0.
A frustrated Patrick Vieira revealed his thoughts to ESPN at the half. “We’re making some mistakes in the back when we’re defending,” Vieira said. “We’re making too many mistakes in the first half. Bad decisions by ourselves.”
It didn’t really improve after the half. An early goal was vital if a New York City comeback was going to happen. It didn’t come. The Five Stripes were perfectly content to surrender possession to the Blues, as long as it didn’t mean surrendering the lead. Vieira made his substitutions — first RJ Allen for Ethan White in the 59th minute, as he sought to free Jack Harrison to play further forward. Then in the 72nd, Ugo Okoli came on for Mikey Lopez. And in a last throw of the dice, Tommy McNamara replaced Ben Sweat in the 85th minute.
It didn’t matter. The lone bright spell came in the 71st minute. Sweat lasered a sweet cross into the Atlanta box, just as Harrison ran onto it. Harrison made short, exquisite work of it, making the score 3-1. The goal was Harrison’s fifth of the season, surpassing his total from last year.
It wasn’t enough. Despite coming on scarcely a minute later, Okoli made little impact on the game, drifting here and there, but troubling not the Atlanta defense. McNamara made more of an impact in his brief minutes, but he, too, couldn’t make himself available.
And so it ended.
Vieira remained frustrated, but ultimately philosophical on the day.
“The first goal we made a mistake because two players went for the ball and our recovery wasn’t good,” said the second year manager.
“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.”
Despite the loss, New York City remain in third place in the Eastern Conference, with a record of 6-5-2, and 20 points.
The Blues return home to Yankee Stadium for a rare Wednesday night clash against the New England Revolution. The game will be at 7:30 p.m., aired on YES. It will be Patrick Vieira’s 50th game in charge; he has a record of 21-17-11 going into that game.