New York City FC recorded a historic victory against Portland Timbers in MLS Cup on Saturday afternoon.
Here's Five Points from a truly unforgettable day.
A penny for the thoughts of Ronny Deila at half-time, full-time and after Alex Callens’ penalty hit the back of the net.
The Norwegian tactician has demanded his players do their jobs and give their all, and those requirements have been central to this success. Deila has also had a calm hand on the accelerator this season, making sure the players never get too high or too low, and through that foundation he has helped them stay calm in critical moments.
NYCFC’s playoff run was by no means easy, but they navigated it through mental toughness and composure in the big moments. Ronny Deila has done a tremendous job helping to cultivate that mentality in this group, and he deserves all the plaudits coming his way.
His press-ups aren’t bad either.
Set Piece Success
From the very earliest stages of this season – most notably against FC Cincinnati at Yankee Stadium – you could see that New York City FC were a danger from set pieces.
The team’s smart routines have been used to help win games throughout the season, and on a day when opportunities in open play were always likely to be at a premium, it is no surprise that NYCFC went ahead through a freekick.
Maxi Moralez, a fine wine in a short bottle, curled in a delightful cross to find his teammate Taty Castellanos. His header did enough to get past Steve Clark and into the goal, which turned the dynamic of the game on its head and forced the hosts to leave more space in search of an equalizer.
Moralez almost helped NYCFC to score a second when he clipped the bar with a freekick. From the resulting corner his cross only narrowly missed the head of Alex Callens.
The work of Rob Vartughian and the staff have been well documented throughout 2021. When the technical quality of players like Moralez is met with hours on the training field it creates small percentages that can make the difference on days like this, which it did.
This year has been a defining one in the career of Sean Johnson.
One of the longest serving NYCFC players, his position in the squad was elevated when Ronny Deila appointed him captain at the start of the year. A team’s success is often measured by the standard its captain sets, and that was true of the Boys in Blue.
Whether it was New England, Philadelphia, or Saturday, Johnson has come up big at key moments during this run.
Standing with your back to the Timbers Army after 120 grueling minutes in the wind and rain is enough to test the nerve of anyone. Johnson was unphased by this combination and pulled out two emphatic penalty saves.
That was the foundation for success, and rightly earned him the game’s MVP award. A leader, and now a Club legend, here’s to Sean Johnson.
Few sports can convey the agony and ecstasy of success and failure quite like soccer. If Alex Callens penalty saw NYCFC land on the right side of that coin, Felipe Mora’s injury time equalizer was the antithesis.
Maxime Chanot had a strong case that he was fouled in the build up to the goal, but as soon as the game restarted it was about NYCFC digging in and not folding under the pressure of a home crowd and opponent gaining momentum. NYCFC entered extra time knowing they would once again have to dig in and keep pushing forward, inch by inch.
While chances were few and far between for both sides, the lottery of penalties is another opportunity to test your nerves and character. The five penalty takers that stepped up showed bravery and courage, while Sean Johnson did his part to make it so the game was decided without the need for sudden death.
A Star Is Born
At the start of 2021 the players and staff at NYCFC knew they’d have to do something different to secure the Club’s first piece of silverware. The win in Philadelphia meant that goal was achieved, but no sooner had the champagne been sprayed at Subaru Park than Ronny Deila was preaching the need for focus.
Saturday’s game was a moment of history for the Club, and one that was years in the making. This group, one that has played beautiful soccer and matched it with grit and determination will now live forever in the history books.
The star above the badge may recognize our first MLS Cup, but it symbolizes so much more.