4. Can Atlanta play ‘playoff soccer’?
Short answer: Kind of.
Long answer: 37. That’s the number of fouls Atlanta committed over the two legs against NYCFC, an average of 18.5 fouls a game. This is compared to Atlanta’s final two regular season games in which the team only committed 22 fouls for an average of 11 a game.
Playoff soccer requires a different type of toughness and grit. Atlanta found a way to play with some grit against NYCFC and it went a long way in securing the series win. The Five Stripes slowed down NYCFC every chance they got. With such a choppy pace of play, Atlanta capitalized when needed and proved they can win with intensity and fire.
Here’s why the answer is ‘kind of’. Atlanta defender Franco Escobar completely loses NYC’s Maxime Chanot, leading to that set piece goal. It was such a cheap give away and came at a poor time. Luckily for Atlanta it didn’t come back to bite them, but that goal right before the half could have been a huge momentum swing for City and could have led to an Atlanta collapse.
If Atlanta is going to beat New York Red Bulls in the conference final, the team cannot give away goals like that. The Five Stripes have shown they can dominate a game physically, but they’ve also shown they can commit potentially fatal mental mistakes.