Alex Callens converts the game-winning penalty kick. (USA TODAY Photo)

By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

It’s funny how fickle and generous the soccer gods can be.

Entering Tuesday night’s shootout against the New England Revolution, New York City FC had never won a penalty kick tie-breaker in four tries.

The Cityzens also had players who endured history of failing to convert penalties. Alex Callens missed one in a Leagues Cup last summer and Maxi Moralez seemingly couldn’t buy one, no matter how hard he tried. Goalkeeper Sean Johnson also was winless in three tie-breakers.

So, when push came to shove with the pressure of the MLS Cup Playoffs on their shoulders, those three players put their best feet forward and rose to the occasion.

First, Johnson denied Adam Buska on the Revs’ second attempt to give the visitors the lead.

Moralez then scored in the fourth round and Callens drilled home the game-winner to boost the team into the Eastern Conference final of the MLS Cup Playoffs.

NYCFC won the shootout, 5-3, after played to a 2-2 draw after 120 minutes at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.

“As a team, I think we’re extremely prepared for the penalty shootout,” he said. “It showed tonight. We do what we have to do to prepare for the game. The penalty shootout was one thing that we talked about and a moment that we wanted to to embrace. So for myself to all the players who stepped up I think we were we were ready and prepared to go into the shootout and execute.”

Johnson, the team captain, was impressed with the way Callens and Moralez stepped up.

“It was a special, extremely special moment to see Callens and Maxi to step up,” he said. “I’ve been here for a long time. We’ve spoken about it all year and us being veteran guys and the core of this group. It’s stepping up in big moments, leading the team not only our words but as an example as well.

“Callens has given me everything for this club. Maxi, he’s given everything for this club and it means the world to get those moments to show how much it means and do everything we can for this team. So, I’m extremely proud of those guys proud of everybody who stepped up.”

Before the shootout began, Johnson talked with Revs goalkeeper Matt Turner. Both players are members of the U.S. men’s national team in World Cup qualifying.

Asked what they talked about, the NYCFC captain replied, “I think it’s just the acknowledgement of it being an incredible game, 2-2. Two good teams and coming out of penalty shootout. I’ve known Matt for a long time. Basically, just said, ‘Man, that was a hell of a game. All the best in the shootout.’ And we just went from there.”

On New England’s second attempt, Johnson dove to his left to snare Buska’s attempt.

Moralez is NYCFC’s playmaker but had been a penalty bust until Tuesday night. He had failed to convert on five of six attempts.

On City’s fourth attempt, Moralez fired his shot down the middle to give his team a 4-2 advantage.

“He takes all this responsibility,” head coach Ronny Deila said, adding that Moralez “has carried this team many, many times. And that’s important to understand. Today, also did a fantastic job during the game and in the end also get that penalty, I think it’s good for him and for everybody to get that out. Now we look forward not backwards. He is just looking better, better now as the longer the season goes.”

With NYCFC leading 4-3 on its fifth attempt, Callens drilled his kick into the left corner for the win.

“When he started, he wasn’t playing national team games. He did stupid mistakes,” Deila said. “Tactically, now he plays every game for Peru. He has grown as a person. He has grown as a player and he’s a top center back.

“He also can do big things in the big moments as well. That shows that you have learned something from the last time he took a penalty. This is something he grow from. This is this is life. This is football. You need to you need to embrace the opportunity and learn from your experiences. He has just shown he gets better and better. Right now, he’s just playing top in every way in defense.”