As an MLS season unlike any other continues, New York City FC is set for Round One of the MLS Cup Playoffs on Saturday, November 21 at 12:00PM ET.
It’ll be a familiar opponent for the Boys in Blue as they face their 2015 expansion cousins Orlando City SC. The two sides played out a hard fought draw just over a month ago and, speaking to media this week, Sean Johnson shared his confidence in the squad’s ability to get the win this time down at the Exploria Stadium.
“It's about us executing. I think we were down playing in Orlando and we had quality chances, we limited their opportunities,” Johnson said, “So yeah, they're a good opponent but I know our team has quality as well so we're confident in our abilities.”
While some might paint NYCFC as the underdogs in this Eastern Conference Round One match up, to Johnson it’s just noise. “I think we've been focused internally on what we have to do to go down and take care of business,” he continued, “There's really no other focus than that.”
After wrapping up the regular season with a 3-4 win on Decision Day over Chicago, the Boys in Blue have since had time to rest up and recover before beginning their MLS Cup Playoffs run this weekend. A break our Johnson sees positivity in after what has been a busy MLS schedule.
“It gives us a chance to get everybody back to feeling 100%,” he reflected, “You know, obviously, you would like to continue on with your form, winning four games in a row. But I think for now, the mindset is we've got to a point, we understand each other very well. And we can step on a field and perform as a group.
“I think just giving ourselves the best chance to go into a game 100% with the energy that we need and feeling good is the most important thing now.”
As memories of the heartbreaking 2019 MLS Playoffs defeat inevitably stir, it’s been important for the squad to keep moving forward and grow from previous years. Johnson said: “I think taking the experiences when you don't achieve what you want and turning them into learning experiences and driving yourself forward to make sure that moving forward you don't repeat the same things that you got wrong the year before, years before, I think is something that speaks to this team being together for a very long time and I think it's something that we learn from.”
“This whole year, I think we've been motivated to get back to the point where we put ourselves in position to continue to move forward when we get to the playoffs and the time’s now. We've been together for a while now and we have to continue to drive forward and use that past experience as a learning one.”
It’s been a year full of challenges, and it hasn’t always been easy. With the COVID-19 pandemic, MLS is Back bubble, same day travel for road games, injuries among the team, and a lot of other unforeseen circumstances, Sean acknowledges that it puts a strain on players. However, despite all the team has faced this season, the squad has adapted and continues to rise to the challenge.
“It's a resilient group. We've been through a lot this year… but we've taken everything in stride,” Sean said. “It’s not going to be for lack of resiliency this year as a reason why we can't achieve something special. I think this is a group that's shown time and time again, that we can overcome challenges.”
While NYCFC fans might argue that he deserved a Goalkeeper of the Year nod for his performance in the MLS regular season as he topped the league for saves, Sean’s main focus is on lifting silverware with the entire team.
“I think it's really what motivates you and the standard you hold yourself to,” he declared, “Do you want to be a household name for some people? Sure. Do you want to be the best-selling jersey in the league? For some people, Sure. But for me, it's a championship. It's a trophy. “Those are the things that are lasting and memorable, and accolades will come. With that, I think I'd rather lift a trophy and celebrate being the best team in the league, rather than individually.”