Skip to content

NYCFC let lead slip, draw with Atlanta United

New York City earned a second consecutive draw, with goalkeeper Matt Freese and goal-scorer Santi Rodríguez providing the heroics necessary to help the team earn its point.

Santi stays perfect from the spot. Photo: Mark Smith-USA TODAY Sports

New York City FC hosted its first match in Queens of the 2024 season and played to a 1-1 draw with Atlanta United, a Santiago Rodríguez penalty in the 43rd minute canceled out by a headed goal by Atlanta's Jamal Thiaré in the 65th minute.

Atlanta came to Citi Field without an away point or away goal to its name and got both, yet might leave the more letdown of the two teams to have not picked up the maximum three points.

That's due to another strong showing from Matt Freese in the New York City goal, with the keeper making five first-half saves to hold the score level long enough for Rodríguez to give the team a lead, which it took into halftime.

Despite trailing, Atlanta had the clearer of the chances in the first half, and the most big chances all night. They were a depleted side playing without star striker and reigning MLS Newcomer of the Year Giorgos Giakoumakis, as well as two other regular starters, yet you wouldn't tell from their performance against New York City.

Atlanta posed a constant threat with its counterattack, and the Five Stripes finally broke through against Freese almost halfway through the second half, an all-too-easy counter started by a long ball forward from goalkeeper Brad Guzan that culminated in the emphatic Thiaré header.

New York City FC attempted a whopping 23 shots but was wildly erratic with all that shooting, only putting two attempts on target. One of those two attempts almost became a flukey match-winning goal, with Atlanta's Guzan making a great reaction save in the 77th minute to turn a deflected strike from distance from Santi Rodríguez onto the post.

A few inches differently on the initial shot's deflection, or Guzan's redirection of the shot, and the feeling is very different for New York City. Instead, it was a draw that felt like an escape or a let-off, with the home team somewhat fortunate to take the one point.


New York City: 23 shots, 3 shots on target, 53.3% possession, 444 passes, 81.8% pass accuracy, 13 fouls, 5 saves

Atlanta: 19 shots, 6 shots on target, 46.7% possession, 404 passes, 76.7% pass accuracy, 11 fouls, 2 saves

• New York City, Santiago Rodríguez (PK), 43'
Atlanta United, Jamal Thiaré, 65'

Attendance: 21,497

Santi and Freese: Fire and Ice

The two players who have done the most to carry New York City through its first seven matches of the season have been Matt Freese and Santi Rodríguez, and that was very much the case once again at Citi Field.

The NYCFC attack has been ineffective and inefficient, but Santi has still been its leading chance-creator and sole standout performer.

He's also become the team's regular penalty kick taker, and converted his first attempt this year after going 1-for-2 on his spot kicks in 2023. For a team that struggles to score, Santi being reliable on PK duty is of heightened importance, so burying the VAR-confirmed penalty he earned is no small feat.

On the other end of the pitch, Matt Freese has now made five saves in each of the last three matches, though still remains without a clean sheet on the season. Freese's best save against Atlanta was to deny Thiago Almada early in the first half, with The Iceman getting his lower body in the way of a pacey low shot from Almada.

Freese has been holding New York City together at the back with the defensive line directly in front of his goal unsettled, with Birk Risa and Kevin O'Toole coming back from injuries, and Tayvon Gray and Mitja Ilenič briefly off on international duty.

Freese and Santi both have been bright spots in an otherwise gloomy early part of the season and each played key parts in getting New York City its point on Matchday 7.

g+ GameFlow

Shooting struggles

This New York City team had a scattergun shooting night in its 2024 Queens debut, and that included another off-the-mark performance from the team's No 9.

Mounsef Bakrar looked like a striker low on confidence at Citi Field as he extended his goalless, frustrating start to the season with a fruitless 90-minute shift vs. Atlanta.

Bakrar attempted five shots but put zero on target, a week after he had three shot attempts at Inter Miami CF, but also put zero of those shots on target. Against Atlanta, the Algerian forward continued to make good runs and get into the right spots, but still couldn't find a finish.

Not helping the situation for New York City: The promising 18-year-old striker the club signed to compete with Bakrar and add goals is stuck back home in Serbia waiting to sort out matters relating to his work visa.

Also not helping is the fact that other recently-added attacking talents like Hannes Wolf, Julián Fernández, and Agustín Ojeda have combined for zero goals and one assist, with Ojeda hardly seeing the pitch since arriving from Racing Club in Argentina.

Nick Cushing spoke positively and hopefully about Bakrar in his post-match, but the striker's struggles in front of goal might be getting a little tough to ignore, especially when he's getting so little help from his non-Santi attacker teammates.

Tired of being tied?

This was Nick Cushing's 71st match in charge of NYCFC across all competitions, and it was the 21st draw his teams have picked up in those matches. Cushing is now on the verge of having his draws (21) surpass his wins (22) earned as New York City head coach, which is not an accomplishment he's likely looking to celebrate.

Last season, NYCFC finished tied for the most draws in the league with 14. The hope that a wave of fresh attacking reinforcements would up the team's goal-scoring and turn a number of those 14 draws into wins has, so far, just been hope.

These latest draws, at Inter Miami and hosting Atlanta United, would be solid results if viewed in a vacuum, knowing what is known about the rosters, talent levels, and expectations.

Instead, New York City's two draws are viewed skeptically and negatively, perhaps due to the fact that Nick Cushing's team has only earned a victory in one away match played since 2023, and due to all 14 of those draws from that previous season.

It used to be that NYCFC won and won convincingly, with frequency, and especially won its home matches, but that home-field advantage eroded just as draws became the hottest result in town.

The talent level and talent fluctuations on the roster might have had plenty to do with all the 2023 draws, but here in 2024, that is not the kind of nostalgia that anyone wants to return to. Especially not right at the start of a five-straight-matches homestand, the longest of this NYCFC season.

• NYCFC, James Sands, yellow card, foul 15'
NYCFC, Tayvon Gray, yellow card, foul, 50'
Atlanta, Derrick Williams, yellow card, foul, 61'
NYCFC, Keaton Parks, yellow card, foul, 74'

• Referee: Rosendo Mendoza
• Assistant referees: Chris Elliott, Chris Wattam
• Fourth official: Rubiel Vazquez
• VAR: Timothy Ford
• Assistant VAR: Luis Guardia