New York City FC’s MLS Playoffs campaign came to a heartbreaking conclusion at Yankee Stadium on Sunday night.
So, So Close
At Friday’s Open Practice, Patrick told reporters that, so long as his players left everything on the field in their attempts to run down the 4-1 deficit, he would have no complaints.
They did just that, and then some…
NYCFC exploded out of the blocks and immediately took control of the second leg, wasting no time in asking questions of a Columbus backline who were clearly rocking, as a result of our play and the cauldron of noise created by the 23,246 fans present.
There was nothing left to chance, with Sean Okoli, Andrea Pirlo and Jonathan Lewis all introduced late to try and find the go-ahead goal but a combination of the woodwork, some desperate last-ditch defending and a dose of Columbus gamesmanship (more on that later), meant that NYCFC fell heartbreakingly short.
To get so close and to go out by a single goal hurt, but you could not fault the dedication and the quality that was on show on a night that no one present will ever forget, even if it ended in the narrowest of defeats.
Pride in Defeat
The fourth goal in the first leg from Harrison Afful felt like a significant one at the time, coming as it did off the back of David Villa’s morale-boosting away goal, and sadly, it did prove to be the fatal blow after a rollercoaster 180 minutes.
That said, Vieira regretted nothing about the way City approached that first game, even after Alexander Callens’ red card.
It’s part of this team’s DNA to always play on the front foot and to take risks to try and score goals, in all scenarios, and for this reason, the Frenchman would take nothing back if he could have his time again.
It was this approach which took the Boys in Blue to within a lick of paint away from completing Major League Soccer’s ultimate Playoffs comeback and it’s this philosophy which will take us on to greater heights in 2018.
Following the 4-1 first leg loss, there were players who had come in for criticism from fans and pundits alike, but all of the boys stood up to be counted on Sunday night.
Choosing a Man of the Match for our Match Recap proved to be a nigh-on impossible task as there were so many in sky blue who put everything on the line to try to turn around this deficit.
Sean Johnson made one unbelievable save to preserve his eighth clean sheet of 2017, Ben Sweat deputized for Callens at center back with distinction, Struna flew up and down the right flank all night long and hit the shot which culminated in the second goal.
Villa led from the front and was nerveless in netting the penalty, Maxi Moralez was his scheming best, Jack Harrison stretched the Columbus defense to breaking point and the excellent Rodney Wallace was so unlucky not to score the goal of his life with his sombrero and volley which came back off the post.
Frederic Brillant continued his rock solid recent form, Ronald Matarrita looked back to his best after his injury troubles, Yangel Herrera was immense, Alex Ring played like a man possessed in the middle and was the player we ultimately settled on for that hotly-contested MOTM award.
You get the picture - everyone brought their best… and it was so close to being enough for a place in the Conference Final which had looked so unlikely, near-impossible in fact, on Tuesday night.
Vieira was effusive in his praise for Columbus in the post-game press conference, congratulating the visitors for their victory over two legs.
However, he was disappointed by the lack of a refereeing intervention in the face of some world class "dark arts" employed late on by Greg Berhalter’s men as they tried to preserve their shrinking advantage.
It’s ugly stuff but you can’t deny it’s effective – and as maddening as it was (and Zack Steffen was seemingly inviting the referee to yellow card him in stoppage-time), I guess we have to grudgingly concede that we’d have been wanting our goalkeeper to do the same if we had found that all-important third goal and had time remaining…
We’ll Be Back
We’ve regularly kept you up to speed with how we were tracking against previous years’ performances in these pages over the course of the season, always in an attempt to contextualize progress made in just three MLS campaigns.
We jumped from 17th to 4th to 2nd in the Supporters’ Shield standings between 2015 and 2017, meaning we can look back on another season of progress, especially in light of us coming through with the bye from a seriously competitive Eastern Conference.
It hurts right now but we’ll be back next year ready to take it on even further.... #MakeItHere was no cheap sentiment that ends with our Playoffs defeat. Make no mistake, this fight goes on and it will continue to do so until we raise aloft that MLS Cup for the first time.
Thank you for your incredible support throughout our third year and keep the faith… preseason will be here before you know it.