New York City FC were crowned Eastern Conference Champions on Sunday after overcoming Philadelphia Union 2-1.
Here are Five Points from a historic evening at Subaru Park.
A Moment Of Magic
As the clock ticked towards the 90th minute it seemed like New York City FC were going to face a second dose of extra-time in less than a week.
Philadelphia had defended resolutely throughout the game, but in the blink of an eye Gudi Thórarinsson’s determination allowed him to pounce on a 50-50 ball and square it to the on-rushing Talles Magno. The Brazilian was a second-half substitute for Héber, and offered NYCFC a focal point in attack as well as a threat in behind.
Talles has made a name for himself operating in a deeper position, but this season for NYCFC he has shown a capability to play in an advanced role and cause problems. His strength and ability to carry the ball are major assets, and on Sunday he made a dangerous late run to win the game. These are the type of moments the Brazilian was signed for, and he delivered when it mattered most.
“I’m unbelievably happy [for him] and if you ask anybody on the team, they would say the same thing. It’s not easy for an 18-year-old to move to a new country where he doesn't really speak the language but I think it speaks a lot about his work rate and his attitude. If anybody deserves to score the winner it’s him.”
Bold Changes, Big Results
When a game is tied delicately at 0-0 it can be easy to forego changes. The two coaches can be waiting for the other to blink, and after a cagey first half on Sunday it’s fair to say the game was still trying to settle.
As the second half began the Union fashioned a good chance for Leon Flach, and by the time the hour mark approached Ronny Deila knew something had to change.
Héber had performed admirably up top, while Malte Amundsen and Jesús Medina offered a combination of attacking intent and defensive diligence. Deila hoped introducing Gudi Thórarinsson, Talles Magno, and Isamel Tajouri-Shradi would offer an injection of fresh legs and impetus in attack, and it did just that.
To make three substitutions in one go is a bold call, but in the end, it was two of those three – Thórarinsson and Talles Magno – that combined to separate the teams, while Tajouri-Shradi was a menace during his cameo. Deila has been careful when deciding to make substitutions this season but has at times found success at key moments this season with subtle tweaks (see Atlanta away in the regular season for a recent example).
On Sunday the moment called for bold action and Deila did just that – his reward, a place in MLS Cup.
The Union’s opener came out of the blue and provided a spark to the boisterous home crowd.
It would have been easy for NYCFC to retreat into their shell and regroup. Instead, Philly’s goal was a spark for the Boys in Blue and they hit back instantly. Maxi Moralez did a fantastic job of following the ball in from Maxime Chanot’s shot and staying calm under pressure. The veteran playmaker has been an integral part of this run, and it was his pass that created hesitation in the Philly defence for the second goal also.
Even though there was still half an hour remaining in the game after Moralez’s goal it would have been easy to let the game get away from them by panicking. Instead, they halted the Union’s momentum and took control of the game in a split second.
“I think getting that quick goal after they scored was very fundamental,” said Moralez postgame.
A Taste Of Success
It’s only half done.
Sunday’s historic Eastern Conference title was a tremendous moment for the Club, and while the big prize is on offer this weekend, it’s worth taking a moment to celebrate that first achievement.
For players and staff, it was the unfurling of 10,000 hours work, seasons of ups and downs, and rich reward for their effort both on the field and away from the spotlight. This team has already done something special in winning the Eastern Conference and delivering the Club its first trophy, but they have achieved that by maintaining focus. Sunday was a chance to celebrate and enjoy a special moment, but also an opportunity to remind each other that the big prize is still 90 minutes away.
Ronny Deila explained it best.
“As I said to the boys, enjoy it because it's a big thing, the whole club has to enjoy it, the supporters everybody because here in the U.S. it's hard to win,” he said. “Everybody has the same opportunity and its 28 teams, it's crazy, so what we have done so far has been just amazing, but the biggest one is coming Saturday.”
NYCFC have had some difficult moments in playoff games, but this season has felt different.
The group have pushed through difficult tests against Atlanta, New England and now Philadelphia, with their character tested in every single round. Both Head Coach Ronny Deila and Club Captain Sean Johnson have talked about the importance of approaching these games with the right mentality.
“For me, I look at it as the year as a whole, and taking the experiences that we've had from preseason until now, it's been a journey,” Johnson said. "One that each and every person in the locker room knows the importance of all those experiences we shared together. I think everything's coming together and we’re using those experiences positively. In tough moments we stuck together, and the season’s definitely brought us closer together, and those moments matter. Those moments changed the course of the season.”
This team has shown a new dimension, and if they can do that once more they will be MLS Cup champions.