In two regular season matches, Toronto picked up a 4-0 win at BMO Field with the clubs playing to a 1-1 draw in the return match at Yankee Stadium. NYCFC’s Keaton Parks, a 22 year old midfielder seemed confident, despite the poor results against Toronto.
“I think we just need to show up to the game with the same confidence we’ve had,” said Parks. “We don’t need to switch up anything to go into this game just because of a couple bad performances.”
NYCFC had one of the league’s slowest starts this year. The club was winless through the first six matches of the season, drawing their first three before losing to Toronto. City picked up two more draws before winning their first of the season, defeating DC, 2-0.
Keaton Parks credited coach Dome Torrent with keeping the club optimistic.
“He was always confident in us,” Parks said in an interview two days before the match. “He always told us to keep our heads up. If a player made a mistake, he wouldn’t yell at them, he didn’t want to take that confidence away.”
Despite being 11th in the East at the start of April, City maintained one of the strongest defensive records, finishing with just six losses. The club never lost consecutive matches, setting the league’s longest unbeaten run of 12 matches, as well as finishing the season 8-2-1 in their last 11 matches.
Looking back, Parks identified NYC’s 3-3 draw against Minnesota United as a turning point for the season.
“We got scored on three times, and that opened our eyes to some mistakes, but it also showed us that we had the attacking ability to put away three goals in a game,” recalled Parks.
On September 9, NYCFC took the East’s top spot, which they would hold through the end of the season, going into the playoffs with a first-round bye. The team took advantage of the time off to travel to Chicago for a friendly match against the Fire.
“It’s a little reward for our efforts all year,” saidd Parks. “I think getting a game against Chicago helps us stay sharp.”
When asked about pressure of being the top seed, Parks rejected the notion.
“I don’t think there’s any pressure,” he said. “There’s definitely expectations from ourselves, knowing how talented we are and the level of soccer on this team. We expect ourselves to make it far and hopefully bring home the trophy.”
NYCFC looks to continue their phenomenal 2019 season with its first postseason success. City has now made the postseason in four consecutive seasons, only failing to qualify in their inaugural 2015 season, but they have never advanced past the Conference Semifinals.
With the Yankees playing deep into the MLB postseason, the match has been pushed from Yankee Stadium to Citi Field.
“I think [home field advantage] is very vital,”said Parks. “Our fans have been great all year, and I think they’ll be just as great at Citi Field.”
NYCFC hosted a game at Citi Field once before, Decision Day 2017, where they closed out the regular season with a 2-2 draw against Columbus.
Parks is currently on loan from Benfica in Portugal, where he featured for the club’s B team with a few first-team appearances.
“I was lucky to be able to come on loan this season with NYCFC and it’s been a great year,” he said. “I think I’ve taken a big role in the team and squad, helping us get to where we are now.”
Still a young player himself, Parks had some advice for other young players with dreams of playing professionally.
“The most important thing in soccer is confidence,” the midfielder said. “Always be confident in your style of play and in your coaches, that’s how you make it. When people like how you play, you gotta stick to that style and be confident in it.”
In the other Conference Semifinal matches, the Seattle Sounders take on Real Salt Lake, while Atlanta United hosts Philadelphia Union on Thursday. The final match is crosstown rivals LAFC against LA Galaxy in 2019’s third installment of the “El Trafico” match.