Ronny Deila has just two seasons under his belt at New York City FC, but few can say they’ve experienced the kind of soccer chaos the Norweigian head coach and his squad did a year ago.
Deila led NYCFC against Orlando City in a first-round MLS Cup playoff matchup that featured injuries, ejections, extra time, a shootout and, eventually, an Orlando defender playing goalkeeper and saving a penalty to send New York City home.
It’s going to be a bit harder for Deila’s second playoff appearance to catch him off guard.
"I know what you have to be ready for — the unexpected, for sure," Deila said.
NYCFC seeks its first postseason victory under Deila when it hosts Atlanta United in the first round at 3 p.m. Sunday at Yankee Stadium, a match the coach can only wish will be less chaotic than his playoff debut.
"Hopefully we don't get the drama like that with so many decisions from referees and all those things, we had to take off Anton [Tinnerholm] middle of the game because of a head injury, a doctor came down," Deila said. "There was a lot of things going on there. But we are ready, we know what we are playing for and what we want and I think just the experience last year just make us even more prepared for what's coming."
New York City has not won a playoff match since 2018, when the club beat Philadelphia in a knockout match before succumbing to Atlanta in both legs of the conference semifinals.
Attacking midfielder Maxi Moralez has learned a few things about the MLS postseason, having played every minute of each NYCFC playoff match since arriving in 2017. Specifically, Moralez believes in the importance of home field advantage and momentum finishing the season, good signs for a City side that’s historically dominant at Yankee Stadium and was unbeaten in its final five matches.
"Whoever is coming in hot usually goes through," Moralez said through a translator. "Atlanta has a good team, they have good quality, they have a good roster. But we're playing at home, we'll be with our fans."
In his fifth year with NYCFC and the final season of his current designated player deal, Moralez said he’s not approaching this year’s playoffs any differently than in years past, but he believes this team is better suited to advance.
"More so than experience, we have a better roster. It's been improving year by year. So we have a really good squad, very deep squad," Moralez said. "We like our chances and we think we're strong."
Deila agrees, so long as NYCFC lives up to its talent level come Sunday.
"The key is that we perform at our best, that's the key, if we do that we have a really good chance to beat Atlanta," Deila said. "We have beat them before this year, we draw away against them, we are strong at home. So it's about getting the best version of ourselves."