Leagues Cup soccer reached the Big Apple, as New York City FC faced Mexican outfit Atlas FC in their opening match of the group stage. However, despite “home” field advantage, the hosts continued their torrid run of form, as Atlas FC beat NYCFC 0-1 to open the Leagues Cup group stage.
The game was a physical one from the start, as both teams made their presences known to one another through strong challenges and aerial duels. After a passage of play in which Atlas were in the driver’s seat, the visitors took the lead in the 7th minute through Aldo Rocha. The midfielder was able to volley home a cross following a cleverly worked corner kick, as NYCFC conceded yet another goal from a set piece.
NYCFC showed flashes of attacking flair towards the end of the first half, but nothing threatening enough to trouble Atlas keeper Camilo Vargas. The same can be said for the start of the second half as well, before Nick Cushing made the first of five substitutions.
First, on came youngster Gabriel Segal to try and revitalize the attack. When that proved ineffective, Richy Ledezma was brought on. It wasn’t until the 80th minute that marquee signing Mounsef Bakrar was sent onto the pitch, much to the delight of the NYCFC faithful in attendance.
Despite now having three center forwards on the pitch, Justin Haak was the man to put the ball in the back of the net for NYCFC. The defensive midfielder, who came on alongside Bakrar, scrambled to fire home a loose ball and tied the match. Or so it seemed: After a grueling five-minute official VAR Review, it was determined that Haak was offside in the buildup, and the goal was disallowed.
Disappointed and dejected, the energy left the building, and NYCFC was unable to claw back into the match, with the squad left to begin the Leagues Cup on zero points.
NYCFC: 10 Shots, 2 On Target, 67% Possession, 595 Passes, 15 Fouls
Atlas FC: 10 Shots, 5 On Target, 33% Possession, 293 Passes, 20 Fouls
Still can’t defend set pieces
In what has become quite an unattractive pattern for NYCFC, the squad cannot adequately defend set pieces. Atlas FC’s only goal of the match came off the back of an impressive corner routine straight off the training ground. Luis Reyes sent in an out-swinging cross over the heads of all in the box. In comes midfielder Aldo Rocha, completely unmarked, to fire home a volley past NYCFC goalkeeper Luis Barraza. The young goalkeeper was unlucky to concede the strike, as he was able to get a hand on it, but the power was simply too strong to stop.
The question that arises from this goal: Why is no one marking Rocha on the edge of the box? The Atlas captain was given free rein on the outside of the 18 and was allowed to run into the box and scrape up a loose ball. The entire NYCFC defensive unit was clustered together in the middle of the box in an attempt to intercept it, leaving the back post completely defenseless.
Credit has to be given to the Atlas players for pulling off an impressive routine, but the NYCFC defense still deserves much of the blame. Ineptitude and lapses in concentration while defending set pieces have hindered NYCFC all season, turning winnable matches like Sunday night’s into painful and unnecessary lessons.
Physical performances from both sides
Following Lionel Messi’s debut for Inter Miami Friday night, the Argentinian superstar stated that his first match was the most physical of his career. Having played in Argentina, Spain, and France, it is a testament to the level on display in the United States and Mexico.
Just as Inter Miami and Cruz Azul battled it out in their respective Leagues Cup match, NYCFC and Atlas put on a similar display at Citi Field. From the opening whistle, challenges and shoulder checks were flying from both sides. Upon the conclusion of just the first half, both sides were responsible for eight fouls each, with each team also receiving one yellow card for their troubles.
When all was said and done, NYCFC and Atlas combined for 35 total fouls, with 15 for NYCFC and 20 for Atlas. Sunday night’s contest had a very similar feel to that of a testy, high-stakes Gold Cup game. It was clear that both sets of players were determined to do whatever possible to get ahead of their opposition, and the crowd savored every second of it.
Drowned out at home
Liga MX teams have devoted followings all across North America, so it was no surprise to see that many Atlas FC fans were present for the Leagues Cup match at Citi Field. It should be said that the NYCFC fans in Queens did little to make their “home” field advantage count.
The atmosphere inside the stadium was rowdy, but the energy was in favor of visiting Atlas, a team whose home stadium is 2,625 miles away in Guadalajara, Mexico. Maybe it’s because NYCFC fans have little to cheer about as the team logs one disappointing result after another.
As the game progressed, it almost felt like NYCFC was the visiting team. After the final whistle blew, the sheer number of fans who stood up and cheered as Atlas left victorious painted a bleak picture of the state of NYCFC at this current moment.
Atlas FC: Aldo Rocha 7′
Atlas FC: Anderson Santamaria, bad foul, 14′
NYCFC: Maxime Chanot, bad foul, 20′
Atlas FC: Jaziel Martinez, dissent, 58′
Atlas FC: Aldo Rocha, bad foul, 88′
Referee: Bryan Lopez
Assistant Referees: Emmanuel Aguirre, Jose Ojeda
Fourth Official: Julio Luna
VAR: Oscar Macias Romo
Assistant VAR: Tristley Bassue