Alex Callens celebrates his goal. (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
For the second time in nine months, New York City FC players danced around with a championship trophy.
And what made it sweeter is that the Cityzens did it at home – after defeating Atlas FC, 2-0, in a solid performance to capture the Campeones Cup at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday night.
When City won MLS Cup last year, the team accomplished the feat almost 3,000 away across the continent in Portland, Ore.
This time the players could celebrate with their fans, especially after defender Maxime Chanot was presented the trophy.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) September 15, 2022
“How about that? Another great night for Major League Soccer and LIGA MX in New York City,” MLS commissioner Don Garber told the team and spectators at the stadium. “New York City, how about another trophy?”
NYCFC struck twice four minutes into each half en route the victory.
Center back Alex Callens, who converted the winning penalty kick to boost City to the MLS Cup last December, connected for the first goal and Maxi Moralez added the second in the final half against the defending LIGA MX champions.
“The truth is that we are coming off a bad streak, potentially the worst of the club,” Callens said. “I think the best way to fix everything is by winning. This is the first final here in New York, at Yankee Stadium, a stadium of champions, and we gave joy to the fans that were here with us and who supported us through the good and the bad. And now it’s the time to celebrate!”
Goalkeeper Luis Barraza, playing in place of captain Sean Johnson, who learned earlier in the day that he had been selected to the U.S. men’s national team for its two European friendlies later this month, recorded the clean sheet.
Just as important as the trophy was that City snapped a five-game winless streak (0-4-1). It also was the Citzyens’ second win in their last 11 matches as the team took home in the neighborhood of $350,000.
“I could feel the locker room before the game,” interim head coach Nick Cushing said. “I felt that there was a real drive and a real hunger. I was just so happy for the guys because of the work that they’ve put in and the way that they’ve responded week in and week out. As a coach you go into the locker room and try and use words to move them onto the next game, and one thing I’ve never ever felt was that the team was coming apart or the team was checking out a little.
“There was always belief and hunger there, the training was the same. But at the same time it’s one win, we have to also understand that we have a huge game in two days.”
Whether the squad can bring this success and perhaps some confidence into league play – NYCFC hosts the Red Bulls in the Hudson River Derby on Saturday afternoon – it remains to be seen.
— New York City Football Club (@NYCFC) September 14, 2022
Four minutes after kickoff, Gabriel Pereira whipped in a long free kick that an unmarked Nicolas Azevedo headed across the goal mouth to an open Callens. The center back nodded the ball home from close range on the left side past goalkeeper Camilo Vargas for a 1-0 lead.
“My coach gives me the freedom to go up and attack as long as I come back to defend,” Callens said. “In this match we played with three at the back which gives me some more room to go up. When we play with just two center backs, I would be leaving the other center back alone. This is a tactic that the coach gave us, I implemented it, it worked!”
Disaster, however, struck for the home in the 29th minute when Heber was forced from the match with a possible hamstring injury. Talles Magno replaced him at striker.
Moralez got into the act in the 49th minute as he completed a nifty passing sequence by his teammates, slotting the ball home from the middle of the box for a two-goal advantage.
— New York City Football Club (@NYCFC) September 15, 2022
“They are a very good team,” Atlas head coach Diego Coca said. “They have players with very good technique, they are fast and powerful. Although, we think that they are not in the best moment in the championship. They have decisive players because it’s difficult for us to enter the game. We left some spaces and they took advantage of that and they made some counter attacks that were very decisive.”