New York City FC clinched a spot in the last eight at the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando on Sunday night.
Here’s five things we learned from the 3-1 win over Toronto FC, presented by Etihad Airways…
This was a night for big character and intensity from NYCFC after an underwhelming group stage showing, and they passed their biggest test so far with flying colors.
From the first whistle, City were first to every ball, earning the right to play and pushing Toronto FC onto the back foot for long spells.
NYCFC never looked like surrendering the initiative after Jesus Medina gave them an early lead, with further second half strikes from Taty Castellanos and Maxi Moralez reflecting the dominance achieved by Ronny Deila’s squad.
It was a complete team performance, underpinned by a desire to set the record straight, and to remind everyone that this team has the quality to hurt any team in this league.
Onto the last eight. We’re not done yet.
Sands On Top
It was a night where the whole squad turned up and made themselves counted, but none more so than young James Sands.
The first homegrown in NYCFC history has been one of the bright spots through 2020 so far and this was arguably his most decisive runout to date, as the Rye native anchored the midfield and dominated.
At times, it was difficult to believe there was only one James Sands on the field, such was his influence, as he won 10 duels, five tackles, blocked two shots and made three interceptions across the 90’.
A huge individual performance in the context of a whole squad effort, especially when you factor in the quality of the opposition. Bravo, James.
With a goal and an assist in a 55-minute cameo, it was Maxi who took the Heineken Man of the Match award with 50% of the four-player vote.
The Argentine playmaker has missed large portions of this tournament so far and surely any side in MLS would miss the production of someone who became the third player in MLS history to rack up 20+ assists in the same season, as Maxi did last term.
His assist for the second goal was pure inspiration: an overhead volleyed through ball which gave Taty the chance to hammer in from the edge of the area on a breakaway, while his goal was an example of composed finishing on the end of similarly inspired creative work from Gary Mackay-Steven and Héber.
With Maxi hitting form at the right time, who’s to say NYCFC can’t stay in that bubble for a little while longer?
Iron Man 100
Another face of this Club crossed over an important milestone in this match, as Alex Callens joined Sean Johnson, Maxi Moralez and Alex Ring in the NYCFC Century Club.
The Peruvian defender has been a huge piece in the City backline over the past three and a bit seasons and he showed his quality again alongside his old buddy Maxime Chanot, to limit the influence of the Toronto attackers, even when Greg Vanney threw on Jozy Altidore and Patrick Mullins to chase the game.
On the landmark appearance, Alex said: "I'm very happy. I found out yesterday. I wasn't thinking about it, I was only thinking about this match. I got to 100 games with NYCFC because the team really took care of me.
“They supported me throughout the way...hopefully I can achieve 100 more games, but for now I'm going to keep training and give my best every single game."
Nicolas Acevedo has had to wait a long time for his first appearance as an NYCFC player, but he made it count when it finally arrived.
Upon signing, the Uruguayan was stuck in his home country unable to travel to New York to join up with his teammates through the COVID-19 season suspension, but he arrived just in time for this competition and earned his first 11 minutes vs. Toronto as a substitute.
He showed up well too, helping City win back and keep the ball, as well as almost completing a brilliant assist for Héber late on.
A very promising cameo which showed there is likely to be a lot more to enjoy from our newest acquisition, both in Orlando and beyond.