It’s Match Day 34, and New York City FC are playing Atlanta United in a Decision Day contest that is already decided: NYCFC are going to the MLS Cup Playoffs after the game wraps up, and eleventh-place Atlanta are going home.
NYCFC do have something on the line. New York City need a win or a draw to secure the third seed in the playoffs. Atlanta will be playing for pride, and to entertain the home crowd in what might be the last game that talisman Josef Martínez plays for the Five Stripes.
The head-to-head between these clubs is a dead-even 4-4-4. New York City have a slight edge on goals, with 19 scored and 17 allowed. Atlanta have a decisive edge when it comes to venue: NYCFC have never won at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Match: NYCFC vs Orlando City
Date and Time: Sunday, October 9, 2:30 pm ET
Venue: Mercedes Benz Arena in Atlanta, GA
Bruce Arena Forecast: Doesn't matter because the Benz is a closed environment, like Biosphere 2 with plastic grass
Watch: YES, ESPN+ (blackouts apply)
Stream: YES App
Listen: English and Spanish broadcasts on NYCFC Radio
• Player availability: No injuries, no suspensions. Once again NYCFC are at full strength, and interim head coach Nick Cushing can push all of the magnets around his whiteboard in order to figure out the best Starting XI. Nonetheless, Alfredo Morales, Keaton Parks, and Anton Tinnerholm are unlikely to go the full 90 minutes as they have only returned from injuries.
Will Cushing stick with the three-back of Callens, Maxime Chanot, and Thiago Martins? The veteran defenders are providing the backbone for NYCFC’s late-season surge, freeing up the attack to do some damage.
• In the pre-game press conference, Cushing said that he might stay with the lineup that performed so effectively in wins over Atlas FC, New Jersey Red Bulls, and Orlando City. Or he might switch it up before the playoffs start. He said that momentum is important, but so trying new things. “As a coach, you have to bounce between form and freshness,” Cushing said.
• Also revealed at the pre-game press conference: Callens was a striker until he was 14 or 15, when he moved to the defense. That explains a lot.
Once a striker always a striker ⚽️ pic.twitter.com/96awsjwS7C— New York City Football Club (@NYCFC) October 7, 2022
• Good news for Alex Callens, Morales, and Santiago Rodríguez, who are all one yellow card away from serving a suspension: According to MLS rules, “yellow card accumulation thresholds for players, coaches, and team officials are reset entering the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.” They’ll start the playoffs with a clean slate no matter what happens at the Benz.
• NYCFC might feel a little bit begrudged after letting Atlanta steal a draw in the 86th minute when the two teams met in the Bronx on the Fourth of July. Taty Castellanos scored twice in that game. Good times.
• NYCFC will be watching the rest of the scorelines on Decision Day. Third through seventh place are in play, and while New York City are guaranteed a “home” game at Red Bull Arena next week it won't be clear who the opponent will be until the Eastern Conference games finish around 5 pm ET. FC Cincinnati, Inter Miami, Columbus Crew, and Orlando are all possibilities entering this Match Day.
• This will be the final New York City game that Ian Joy and Joe Tolleson call for YES. While the network hasn't always been the most caring partner for NYCFC, Joy and Tolleson are the best in the business — we are lucky that they have been the voices of this club from day one. Ian a Joe, we love you, and we will miss you.
Cheers to you all.— (@JOYPAULIAN) October 6, 2022
An emotional weekend ahead but one I certainly am looking forward to.
“ Never to suffer would never to have been blessed “.
Ready to #HAVEIT one last time! pic.twitter.com/AvAflDkv6k
• Will a dysfunctional Atlanta will bring the fight to this game? Maybe the players have already packed their bags and have their Brazilian beach rentals on their minds. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, training sessions this week are slack. “It’s not the same, obviously,” the article quoted manager Gonzalo Pineda as saying. “But we have to do what we have to do. We have to go through the sessions. The sessions have been OK. So, just trying to continue and trying to prepare the team for Sunday.”
• Santiago Sosa was suspended by MLS for three games after he used a homophobic slur in the October 1 game against New England Revolution. The 23-year-old midfielder is a regular starter, and appeared in 21 of Atlanta’s games this year. Sosa will also miss the first two MLS league games in the 2023 season.
• Still, Atlanta will not be a pushover. This team held Philadelphia Union to a 0-0 draw on September 17 in a game that they should have won: Atlanta thoroughly outplayed the Eastern Conference leaders, foreshadowing the Union’s 4-0 loss to Charlotte FC the following week.
• Atlanta playmaker Thiago Almada will want to impress. The Argentine was called up for the international break and, has a good chance of making the 2022 FIFA World Cup squad — teammate Lionel Messi had good things to say about him. This will be his last competitive match before the start of the tournament unless the club sell him or agree to a short-term loan.
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Update: The Starting XI was announced at 2:03 pm ET