As my followers had voted on Instagram, Atlanta United are the NYCFCs biggest rivals other than the Red Bulls, getting 68% of the voters saying yes. The most hated current MLS Franchise just won MLS Cup following a very good year. Atlanta just wrapped up their second season finishing 2nd in the East and 2nd Overall with the best record in MLS history to not win a Supporters Shield. In their MLS Cup run, they beat NYCFC, the Red Bulls, and Portland Timbers.
NYCFC and Atlanta first met in 2017 at Yankee Stadium. Two strong recent expansion teams played out to a very entertaining 3-1 NYCFC win. Atlanta returned the favor beating NYCFC 3-1 at the Bobby Dodd, with all three Atlanta goals coming between the 16th and 23rd minutes. 2017 finished with NYCFC finishing 2nd in the East and 2nd Overall with 57 points, and Atlanta finished with two less points and tied with Chicago for 3rd.
2018 was really where you can judge certain "intensity." NYCFC and Atlanta played twice in the Regular Season, tying both games. The first game was a dramatic 2-2 draw in Atlanta. The hosts put a ton of pressure on NYCFC, and Atlanta got a disallowed goal because an offside Nagbe was standing in Sean Johnsons line of view. Alex Ring scored his first NYCFC goal with a shot from distance that went bar down into the Atlanta net. Not only was it an entertaining game, but it was very physical game. 27 fouls were committed and six cards were handed out. The next meeting at Yankee Stadium, on June 9th, ended in a 1-1 tie. In Patrick Vieiras final game in charge, NYC were incredibly unlucky to not win that game. Almost 2/3 of possession, twice as many shots on target than Atlanta had in total, the game was sadly a tie. This was the least physical game between the two sides, with 25 fouls and only four cards handed out. The early stages of the season made it look like NYCFC and Atlanta would battle it out for the Supporters Shield, but the Red Bulls, who had games in hand at the time, and therefore chasing the Top 2, soon caught up in a record breaking Supporters Shield win. Atlanta ended up finishing a position ahead of NYCFC in the East anyway, but there was a 13 point difference between the two sides.
The Eastern Conference Semifinals in 2018 came along. NYCFC and Atlanta faced off in the most brutal Playoff series of the year. Even with two rivalries in that same round, NYCFC and Atlanta really brought the game to each other. Despite the aggregate score being 4-1, NYCFC again dominated multiple stats in both games, as Atlanta were definitely conservative for a game and a half. Lets just say, in 210 minutes between Portland and Seattle, widely considered to be the biggest rivalry in MLS, there were 54 fouls and 5 yellow cards. Sporting KC and Real Salt Lake was also a " rivalry game", with 56 fouls and 7 yellow cards in 180 minutes. Even Atlanta and the Red Bulls is shaping up to being a heated rivalry, but only 42 fouls and 2 yellow card over two games. How about NYCFC and Atlanta? Over two legs, they saw 75 fouls and 11 cards handed out. In four meetings against Atlanta, it is by far the most physical contest NYCFC participated in in 2018. Statistically, it was more physical than the Hudson River Derby which saw 111 fouls, 10 yellow cards and 2 red cards, versus Atlanta and NYCFC facing 127 fouls and 21 yellow cards handed out. There's obviously more to it than fouls and cards given, but isn't physicality what we want in games? In four meetings just in 2018 to consistently be physical, plus the Regular Season record that's even as you'd like, one NYC win, one Atlanta win, and two ties, with a combined score of 7-7, it's definitely a intriguing game to watch.
Is it a rivalry? It definitely has an intensity to on the field, I think the players see the games against each other as big games. Like I just mentioned, it's a very close series in the Regular Season, and I think there's potential for a rivalry for sure, but because they've played only six times, I'll have it wait. Also Atlanta fans will probably look at the Red Bulls as big rivals because of the Supporters Shield race and the meeting deep in the Playoffs in 2018, and meetings like this will most likely continue, but also with Inter Miami coming in a few seasons, just watch Atlanta versus Miami become one of, if not the biggest games in MLS. Final judgement, NYCFC versus Atlanta has what it takes to become a "rivalry", but I'll give it time, and from their perspective, we won't be near that number one sport. Atlanta is the most hated MLS team right now, until Austin FC come into the league, so it's nothing too special between NYC and Atlanta.