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RECAP: New York City 3, Atlanta United 1

Blues defeat ATL in wide-open contest

MLS: Atlanta United FC at New York City FC Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

It’s beginning to feel like New York City FC’s getting into gear — just in time for a brutal four-game road trip. Two weeks ago, manager Patrick Vieira made a gut-check decision.

He benched Andrea Pirlo, and started Yangel Herrera.

In doing so, Vieira knew he was surrendering a bit of control in the midfield. But he gained two things. One, whomever replaced Pirlo would contribute to both the midfield, and more crucially, the defense. That would allow NYCFC to defend with six at the back — the four-man backline, plus whomever was playing at the 6, and whomever served as the box-to-box midfielder.

Two, the remaining four outfield players would be free to take primarily offensive tasks. That means Maxi Moralez orchestrates the offense as a number 10, with Rodney Wallace and Jack Harrison on the wings, and David Villa up top.

It paid off at Columbus, where the Blues won for the first time ever. It paid off today, where NYCFC blew Atlanta United off the field in the second half.

David Villa — the MVP, the pulsing heartbeat of the Blues — opened the scoring in the 17th minute with an exquisite shot off the post, courtesy of a Rodney Wallace feed.

The score remained 1-0 New York City until the 39th minute, when Carlos Carmona scored on a rocketed half-volley. Carmona’s goal came off a header, which in turn came off a throw-in. The game remained tied at one goal apiece at the half.

Immediately after halftime, Rodney Wallace had three shots at goal saved in a brilliant defensive sequence. You wouldn’t be blamed if you thought that was a portent for a frustrating afternoon.

But in the 60th minute, Wallace scored his goal. It came off a sliding, sloppy shot that he managed to poke into goal to give NYCFC the 2-1 lead. As Atlanta tried collecting themselves in order to potentially equalize the game, the Blues delivered the knockout blow in the 61st minute. Maxi Moralez scooted clear to calmly slot a shot past Atlanta keeper Alec Kann to make the score 3-1.

That effectively killed off the game. New York City repeatedly pressured Atlanta’s back four, while neutralizing United’s high press. Despite their best efforts, Atlanta couldn’t come up with a response.

Next up for the Blues: a road engagement next Sunday, May 14th, with FC Dallas, arguably the league’s best team. This will be a primetime matchup at 8 p.m. on FS1.