NYCFC players celebrate their win in Portland. (David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports)
Now, how many of you soccer fans and observers had this on your bingo card this year?
* New York City FC winning its first MLS Cup in only its seventh year of existence.
* Striker Taty Castellanos captured the Golden Boot crown and coming up huge in the postseason.
* And NYCFC head coach Ronny Deila celebrating in his own unique way by keeping a promise by striping down and doing push-ups after a victorious Saturday at Providence Park in Portland, Ore. on Dec. 11. The visitors prevailed in a shootout, 4-2, after playing to a 1-1 draw after 120 minutes with the Portland Timbers.
If you did, you are a soothsayer and should be doing some high stakes gambling in Las Vegas, or you were lying.
City overcame the odds – runaway Supporters’ Shield champions New England Revolution was the odds-on favorite to win its very first MLS title. But the Cityzens had other ideas, becoming the 14th team to take a celebrate an MLS Cup triumph as it secured its first major championship.
— Michael Lewis (@Soccerwriter) December 11, 2021
It was the city’s first national championship of a major league sports team since the Giants won the 2012 Super Bowl. It also was the first title by the top tier soccer team since the original New York Cosmos captured the 1982 North American Soccer League crown.
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.
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.
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 championship.
— New York City FC (@NYCFC) December 13, 2021
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,” 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.”
Etched in history 🏆
— New York City FC (@NYCFC) December 12, 2021
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.
Three days after winning the championship, NYCFC players were lauded on the steps of City Hall of their achievement, getting praise from mayor Bill de Blasio and keys to the city while celebrating their accomplishment in front of their adoring fans.
The @NYCFC overcame so much last year.
Even in the championship game, when it looked like they were down and out they rose to the challenge.
— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) December 16, 2021
“I think we can finally put to rest of the debate of what color the city is,” Johnson told the crowd. “New York is Blue baby!!!!”
Johnson was referring to the Cityzens’ rivalry – the Hudson River Derby – with the Red Bulls.
De Blasio hailed the squad.
“You have made us proud at a moment where we needed it because we’ve been through so much these last couple of years in New York City,” he said. “We needed this victory. We needed the hope that this team is giving us. It’s more than just a victory in the game. It’s what they have done for all of us.”
A championship will mean more meaningful matches in 2022.
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 at Yankee Stadium on Feb. 23.