Major League Soccer Golden Boot winner Valentin Castellanos scored his first MLS Cup Playoff goal in the 49th minute to lead NYCFC to a 2-0 home victory in Sunday's first-round clash against Atlanta United at Yankee Stadium.
Defender Alex Callens added his second goal of 2021 in all competitions in the 53rd minute for NYCFC, which advances in the postseason for just the second time in its seven-year club history.
Fourth-seeded New York will visit Eastern Conference top seed New England Revolution in a conference semifinal on Nov. 30.
Sean Johnson made four stops to preserve his second career playoff clean sheet, and his first since 2017, with all of his saves coming after the hosts took a two-goal lead.
New York midfielder Alfredo Morales left with a late second-half injury.
Atlanta defender Alan Franco was sent off for his second booking deep in second-half stoppage time as the fifth-seeded United suffered its first defeat in more than a month.
Maximiliano Moralez, NYCFC's 34-year-old captain, played a role on both New York City FC goals.
On the first, his long looping cross from the right fell to the back post for Castellanos, who struck a first-time volley into the ground. Castellanos did not connect as he intended, but the ball bounded hard off the turf, over Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan and into the net.
Guzan made an excellent diving stop to deny Moralez from distance four minutes later. But after pushing the ball onto the post, Callens was there to head the rebound into an open goal from close range.
Johnson's best stop came about eight minutes later on a rare Atlanta break, when he dove low to his left to deny Josef Martinez's effort. It was the only shot on target Martinez could muster on the day after leading Atlanta with 12 regular-season goals.
--Field Level Media