Alex Ring: “Atlanta hasn’t played for a week now and I remember last year, when we didn’t play the week, it was hard to get into the game in Columbus when they played before us. So maybe we can take advantage, maybe not.” (Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports)

By Michael Lewis
FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

BRONX, N.Y. — Alex Ring has three words for Atlanta United: Bring it on.

The New York City FC defensive midfielder felt this is as good a time as any to take on Atlanta, which City will host in the first leg of an MLS Playoffs Cup Eastern Conference match at Yankee Stadium Sunday at 7:30 p.m.

“I think if you just look at the last two years, the games we’ve had against Atlanta have always been exciting,” he said after Wednesday night’s 3-1 win over the Philadelphia Union at the stadium. “Two teams that want to play a very intense game and I’m looking forward to that. That’s what playoffs are all about, you know? I wouldn’t have it any other way. [At] some point you have to face them. I don’t care when that is. As long as we win.”

Of course, that is easier said that done, although NYCFC has gotten out of its late-season funk by winning two matches in a row since the end of July.

Of course, those victories were against the sixth-place team, but winning sure does wonders for a team’s spirit and confidence.

“We have a good momentum,” Ring said. “Atlanta hasn’t played for a week now and I remember last year, when we didn’t play the week, it was hard to get into the game in Columbus when they played before us. So maybe we can take advantage, maybe not. It’s hard to say right now. We’ll just have to see on Sunday.”

If the semifinals are true to form, it should be a close series. The teams played to a 2-2 draw in Atlanta and a 1-1 tie at Yankee Stadium. The second leg of the series will be played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta Sunday, Nov. 11.

“It’s been great games,” defender Anton Tinnerholm said. “They were the better team when we played them away but it was a 2-2 draw, and we were way better than them at home but it was still 1-1 so it’s been intense and I think it’s been fun to watch.”

NYCFC needs a tie at worst at home in the opening leg. A shutout win would be better because it is an aggregate-goals series.

“We’ve struggled away,” said team captain David Villa, who scored the second goal Wednesday night. “We know that it’s a game of 180 minutes and that for our fans and for us, we have to make sure that we have a good game on Sunday.

“They are an amazing team and they did very well during the regular season. But when we play them again, we’ll be ready for them.”