Ronny Deila celebrates his team’s win over Atlanta United. (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
What New York City FC needs to accomplish on Tuesday night is massive.
Not only is the team competing in a road playoff game, but City also is going against the New England Revolution, the Supporters Shield winners who set a league record with 73 points and who are difficult to overcome at home.
Yet, NYCFC head coach Ronny Deila is confident his team can overcome the Revs. His team was one of five teams that managed to defeat New England this season. Deila also has been buoyed by his side’s late-season form as it brings a six-game unbeaten streak (4-0-2) into the match, outscoring its foes during that time, 14-3.
“Before the season, everybody said that we’re not going to the playoffs,” he said during a Sunday media Zoom call. “We meet the best team in the league, and we are coming to an arena that’s tough to [win]. We have everything to win. We are outsiders here. We have [had] a good run of games. We are in really good shape right now. Good confidence into the game.”
Deila said fourth-seeded NYCFC (14-11-9, 51 points) will go on the offensive against the Revs (22-5-7, 73), although he realized his side will “suffer” when it defends in the Eastern Conference semifinals at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. on Tuesday (FS1, FOX Deportes, 7:30 p.m. ET).
“We will not sit back and let them come at us,” he said. “We will try to attack them. At the same time, we have to deal with suffering when you play away, especially because every game wherever you play you you have moments that you have to be deep and defend the box. But we have done that really good the whole season.”
Due to the configuration of the playoffs in which the top seeds received a first-round bye and the World Cup qualifying break, New England won’t have played in 23 days, or since a dropping a 1-0 decision to Inter Miami CF on Decision Day on Nov. 7. City will be coming off a nine-day break, having bested Atlanta United in the quarterfinals on Nov. 21, 2-0.
“It’s difficult for me to just say something about it,” Deila said. “I haven’t had a 23-day break, so I don’t know. Positive things to get everybody injury free. Everybody’s rested and ready for the game. They’ve had a long time to prepare for the playoffs. And, they are really good football team. So, that’s not in my mind right now. It’s more about getting us to be the best we can be. And then we’re going to have a good game.”
No one had to remind Deila about who he is up against. Arena has won more MLS Cups than any other coach in the league’s 26-year history. He guided D.C. United to the first two titles in 1996 and 1997 before directing the LA Galaxy to MLS glory in 2011, 2012 and 2014. The Franklin Square, N.Y. native has known nothing but success in his coaching career, which includes five College Cup championships and three Concacaf Gold Cup crowns. He also is the lone coach to guide the U.S. men’s national team in two World Cups, reaching the 2002 quarterfinals.
“They have a very experienced coach,” Deila said. “He knows what he’s doing. I think he has been through this 100 times in this league. So, they will be a top prepared for the game, I’m sure. It’s about [what] we can just control, what we can do. We’ve been on a good run that with a lot of good results and good performances. We want to keep on going. We believe that we can do big things.”
Deila noted that if City beat the Revs, it would “be the best season ever in the club’s history.”
No NYCFC team has reached the Eastern Conference final in its seven-year history.
“That’s something we want to achieve,” he added. “But to do that, we have to have our top, top performance and that’s what we are focused on.”
City is 1-2 against New England, having dropped a 3-2 decision at Red Bull Arena on June 19, registering a 2-0 win at Yankee Stadium on Aug. 28 and then falling to a 2-1 defeat at Gillette on Sept. 11.
New England is loaded. MVP finalist Carles Gil, the MLS comeback player of the year, is the midfield engine who makes the team go with a league-best 18 assists. Forwards Adam Buksa (16 goals) and Gustavo Bou (15 goals) give the team a lethal one-two punch, which is rare for league teams.
In the back, the Revs U.S. men’s international Matt Turner, the MLS goalkeeper of the year who backstopped the USA to the Concacaf Gold Cup crown and during World Cup qualifying matches this fall.
“I think two things that stands out about them,” Deila said. “They have legs in the team. They run. They are good runners, all of them. Everybody is together. They work really hard for each other, and they are offensive minded. They put a lot of players in front of the ball. So, I think that’s that the big strength.
“We need to cope with that. We need to cause them problems. If we don’t do that, we will get them too much over us. So, one way to defend them in a good way but we have to do something on the ball as well to make them suffer. That’s something we can do because we have shown it before.”