NYCFC players celebrate with the MLS Cup trophy. (John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports)
New York City FC became the 14th team to take a celebrate an MLS Cup triumph as it secured its first major championship.
Going unbeaten in its final nine matches (5-0-4), City was a difficult team to beat down the stretch. The Cityzens combined a deep bench, a lethal finisher and a stout team defense to reach their goal in their seventh year of existence.
On a rainy Saturday, Dec. 11 afternoon at Providence Park in Portland, Ore., NYCFC defeated the Portland Timbers in the shootout, 4-2, after playing to a 1-1 draw after 120 minutes.
Goalkeeper and team captain Sean Johnson dove to his right to deny Felipe Mora on Portland’s first attempt and then swatted away Diego Valeri’s try in the second round with his right hand. Johnson was voted MLS Cup MVP by the media.
Taty Castellanos, Maxi Moralez, Talles Magno and Alex Callens, on the final shot, converted as NYCFC took home the Philip K. Anschutz trophy in only its seventh season as the team denied former New York Cosmos head coach Giovanni Savarese in his second attempt to win the title.
Castellanos had given the visitors the lead in the 41st minute before the Timbers equalized on Mora’s goal four minutes into second-half stoppage, forcing extratime.
“The game was a very similar journey than the whole season’s been,” NYCFC head coach Ronny Deila said. “There’s been so many ups and downs. But we have learned from our downs, and we have also learned from our ups, and we are bonded more and more during the season. Everything came together in the end, and what we have done in these playoffs and also the month before we come into the playoffs has been so impressive.
“I’m so proud of the boys. I’m so grateful to be the coach of this team. And you see the honest work, how they deal with hard times during the game. They come back. How they support each other, give everything for the club and for each other. That was amazing, and they are winners now. They are winners, and that’s going to be there forever.”
Johnson was just as elated.
“It feels unbelievable to be able to call ourselves champions,” he said. “What a ride so far, this journey was crazy this year, so many ups, so many downs and we talked amongst ourselves before the game and said it’s a massive opportunity to make it all worth it. This is what we live for, these moments. To be the MVP, it means the whole world, but it means so much more to lift a cup for this club.”
City’s depth was demonstrated by the fact it lost right back Anton Tinnerholm midway through the season with an Achilles injury, but Bronx-born Tayvon Gray stepped right in and acquitted himself well. On the left flank, Gudmundur Thorarinsson became a playoff hero. He twice came off the bench with 11th-hour crosses in the playoffs.
After tasting a 1-0 defeat the Red Bulls in the Hudson River Derby on Oct. 17, NYCFC was difficult to beat and to score against. During their nine-game run in the regular and post seasons, the Cityzens outscored their foes, 19-10, while recording three clean sheets, and allowing as many as two goals only once.
NYCFC dispatched Atlanta United in its playoff opener on Nov. 21, 2-0. Nine days later, the visiting side stunned Supporters’ Shield champion New England Revolution in the Eastern Conference semifinals in a shootout after playing to a 2-2 deadlock after 120 minutes. NYCFC, however, lost Castellanos for the conference final as he was red carded during second-half injury time after scoring to give his team a 2-1 edge.
To truly appreciate City’s achievement, it must be noted that the Revs finished with an impressive 22-5-7 mark, an astounding 19 points ahead of its closest rival, the Philadelphia Union in the Eastern Conference while setting a league record for points (73).
Against a Union team that was depleted by COVID-19 in the conference final, NYCFC overcame a one-goal deficit and rallied behind goals from Castellanos and Magno (88th minute) to become only the second New York team to qualify for MLS Cup. The Red Bulls reached the 2008 final, losing to the Columbus Crew, 3-1.
NYCFC also qualified for the 2022 Concacaf Champions League. It will begin the Round of 16 on the road at Santos de Guapiles on Feb. 15 before hosting the Costa Rican side on Feb. 23.
In case you were wondering, the other teams that have hoisted the trophy since the league kicked off in 1996: D.C. United, Chicago Fire, Kansas City Wizards, San Jose Earthquakes, LA Galaxy, Houston Dynamo, Columbus Crew, Real Salt Lake, Colorado Rapids, Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders, Toronto FC and Atlanta United.