Alex Callens and Maxi Moralez celebrate NYCFC’s win over Atlanta. (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)

By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

After getting the OK to play on Saturday, Alex Callens helped to put the KO on Atlanta United on Sunday.

The New York City FC center back helped shut down Atlanta’s attack and scored the insurance goal in the 2-0 first-round win in the MLS Cup Playoffs at Yankee Stadium.

Callens, who returned home with what the team termed a lower-leg injury he suffered while performing for Peru in World Cup qualifying, said he didn’t know if he was going to play until a day prior to kickoff.

“It was very close to not make it,” head coach Ronny Deila said. “But he was. He has been really good today. He played himself to be a regular in the Peru national team. We saw today what kind of qualities he had.”

Callen said he was “very happy,” when he heard he was playing.

“It was very last minute,” he added. “So I didn’t have too much time to prepare to get ready. I spoke with the trainer and the trainer gave me all the confidence that I needed.”

Callens and company had plenty of confidence as the Cityzens shut down Atlanta’s lethal striker Josef Martinez.

“I’ve known Martinez for a while,” he said. “We know he’s fast. He’s strong. He’s a very great player. But I’ve also been playing against him a lot here in MLS [and] also international teams when he’s in Venezuela. The team played together. Everyone ran together and we did the job together.”

He scored NYCFC’s second goal in the 53rd minute, beating goalkeeper Brad Guzan with a point-blank head shot on a play that originated as a corner kick.

“Many emotions scoring the goal, a lot of hard work that went behind it,” Callens said. “I had a big team behind me. a lot of people behind me so it’s really I’m really happy for it.”

It was a rare goal for the 29-year-old defender. Callens found the net but once in 26 regular-season matches this year and has seven in his five-year tenure with NYCFC that has spanned 137 games during the regular season.

Callens said that he “dedicated the goal to my family to the team, to all the people in New York who never lose faith in us.”

“They were here,” he said. “It was just a spectacular game. The atmosphere was incredible. But just very happy. I scored and was able to help my team. We played a great game. We scored two goals. We didn’t let any in and this gives us a lot of motivation to move forward.”

That would be at the New England Revolution in Foxborough, Mass. on Nov. 30.