A depleted Five Stripes fell at home in front of a crowd of 43,185 fans on Tuesday night.
Given the club’s growing injury crisis and missing Martinez and Guzan thanks to the international break, it was clear that this would not be a repeat of the reverse fixture earlier in the year that ended 6-1 in Atlanta’s favor.
In fact, the first half was just as you’d expect. A dull, disappointing 45 minutes where there was no spark, no energy provided. Missing Almiron, Martinez and Garza are titanic blows to the team, especially darting down on the counter, a style of play Tata Martino has found a lot of success with this season. Unfortunately, Chris McCann would be forced to head to the locker room early due to an apparent calf injury in the 44th minute. Mikey Ambrose was then called upon to take his spot.
The bigger story in the first half (and throughout the game for that matter) is referee Armando Villareal and his decisions. Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez was elbowed not once, but twice over the course of the match, and Hector Villalba was on the receiving end of a brutal tackle from Collin Martin. The decision to not send off Martin would be a heavy topic of discussion post-match.
In the second half, Abu Danladi mowed past Michael Parkhurst and rifled a shot into the top corner of the net to but the Loons ahead 1-0. Things would quickly go from bad to worse as Kyle Reynish was sent off after a VAR review for a last ditch tackle outside the box. Alex Tambakis would then make his debut for United and represent the club’s fourth goalkeeper deployed this season.
Atlanta would however battle back and even take the lead courtesy of Villalba and Julian Gressel, who continues to make his case for the ROTY award.
But unfortunately for the Southerners, the 10-man mix-mash of starters and third stringers would run out of gas before the end of the match. Christian Ramirez would tie the game in the 90th minute and Kevin Molino would steal all three points in a 96th minute strike. The loss is a crushing blow to Atlanta’s 2nd place hopes and now almost certainly will have to play in the knockout round, barring an NYCFC collapse in the final two weeks of the season.
Martino post-match was understandably upset, however he handled himself well in spite of a very late defeat.
When quizzed about whether or not this was the toughest match of the season, the former Argentina boss took a diplomatic approach.
“Not for the effort because I thought that was there, but it’s tough because until the 90th minute we were second in the table and also because we lost a player to injury, in McCann’s case, because he left the field in the first half.”
On whether or not he was upset that the club had to play a match during the international break, his answer this time was much more coy.
“There’s not a lot I can say about that. They put the game at this time, we understood we had to play at this time. We know that every time there are national team games that some players are going to be gone. Minnesota was lucky that Trinidad and Tobago left them two players. But I don’t want to use that as a reference because we already knew the schedule that we had. I’m more upset about the foul in the first half because it seems like there was a double error. An error by the referee and whoever views the replay. It seems like we’ll have to put someone to check the referee and someone to check the person on review.
“We’re going to rest tomorrow and all weekend. The sessions this week will dictate recovery. Now we have an important time to recover well and to give the injured players time to heal.”
Martino then addressed the growing injury crisis after McCann pulled up lame in the first half.
“I understand that it’s a risk when we play so many games. I said it to the players, I don’t remember having had so many games myself or even watching other teams go through a stretch of games like we did with these eight games in 23 days. We it was a risk we had to take because when we started this streak of games against Dallas we were almost outside theplayoffs, so there wasn’t a lot of time to rotate players.”
Captain Michael Parkhurst also spoke to the media post-match and did seem to acknowledge the fact that the team as a whole was running on empty.
“We were tired, obviously. It’s been a long few weeks but a successful few weeks. We come out of it with just one loss. Obviously, we are disappointed about tonight. We gave it a heck of a fight to come back —down a man, down a goal. We’re disappointed that we couldn’t hold on for the last five or six minutes.”
“We’re definitely going to enjoy some rest. We’ve got a lot of tired and bruised, banged-up guys. We need the break to refresh, to recharge.Mentally and physically, it’s been a grind the past few weeks. We’re going to definitely enjoy a few days off. Then, we’re going to get ready for two tough games to finish out.”
With Atlanta and New York City having played an equal amount of games, it’s conceivable that the Citizens have practically secured the vital second spot.