Anton Tinnherholm: “When we’re playing at our best we are the best team in the league.” (Mark Smith-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
Anton Tinnerholm has a deja vu feeling and that might not bode well for the rest of Major League Soccer.
The New York City FC right back said Friday that the team was in a familiar position as it was last year. Yes, as in 2021, when the Cityzens ran the table and captured the MLS Cup.
“I think we’re in a similar spot where we were last season, to be honest,” Tinnerholm said during a media Zoom conference call.
Tinnerholm noted City finished fourth in the MLS Eastern Conference last year. This year the team moved up a spot to third place.
“It reminds me a lot about last season with the first game at home and then we played three away games,” he added.
City won them all, including the most important one, and the Philip F. Anschutz trophy at Providence Park in Portland, Ore. in the final.
The first game was at Citi Field, one the team’s home away from its home (Yankee Stadium) as it registered an emphatic 3-0 triumph over Inter Miami CF in a first-round encounter of the MLS Cup Playoffs last Monday.
The second game? That will be at Saputo Stadium in Montreal, when City visits CF Montreal in an Eastern Conference semifinal at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday.
“In this league, you get what you deserve a little bit,” Tinnerholm said. “We got a home game first but now it’s tougher a weekend because we didn’t finish higher in the in the standings. But I think when we’re playing at our best we are the best team in the league.”
NYCFC is riding a five-game winning streak across all competitions, after stumbling through a 10-game span in which it was difficult for the squad to buy a win or even a draw.
“This season has been a lot of ups and downs,” Tinnerholm said. “Luckily we finished the season strong and I think we’ve been winning like five straight games now. So so we’re feeling like we’re in good momentum right now. I want to keep on going.”
Tinnerholm was a spectator during last year’s playoffs because his season ended due to a ruptured Achilles tendon.
So, he has embraced playing in this year’s competition.
“I said before the game that a lot of guys season ends now but for me the season starts,” Tinnerholm said. “I haven’t had the feeling for over a year. I think to just celebrate with the fans and this winning feeling of the game was fantastic. I missed that being out for for a long time you know,
“For the team I think we did maybe our best game of the season so far in the most important game. So it’s a good sign, but it’s going to be way more difficult game on Sunday.”
Like many Europeans, Tinnerholm experienced a bit of a culture shock what constitutes a league championship in the USA. Here, it is the land of the playoffs. In Europe, winning the league during the season is the big thing. MLS has the Supporters’ Shield, which honors the regular season winner.
“It’s been a bit different for me, especially in the first couple of seasons,” he said. “I remember 2019. We won the league and played fantastic all the way and got a bye the first round. Then we play Toronto. Two mistakes and we’re out. So, then it’s a waste of 34 games because of one bad game.”
But on the other hand …
“Last year where we finished fourth, but then we do like four fantastic games in the playoffs,” Tinnerholm said. “So, it can go any way. I’m getting used to it. I think it’s the American style, to be honest. In America, they want the games all or nothing, where everything is on the line. You get the crowd going, you go the fans going and then the players as well. So, I think it’s more about the American culture that they wanted this way.
“To be honest when you’re part of it, then you’re winning it’s a fantastic feeling. But 2019 I wasn’t that satisfied with the system. So, it can be any way.”
Tinnerholm hopes that he will be satisfied with the American system come the MLS Cup final on Nov. 5.