New York City FC qualified for the MLS Playoffs as the second seed on Sunday, thanks to a 2-2 draw with Columbus Crew SC.
Here, Managing Editor Mark Booth picks out Five Things we learned from a dramatic evening at Citi Field…
Back in the Groove
Due to injuries/returns, a run of road games and an international break, the last couple of months have been somewhat fragmented for the Boys in Blue but there were signs of fluency being recovered in Queens yesterday.
In the first half especially, Patrick Vieira’s men looked horrible to play against, suffocating Columbus with high intensity pressing and then stretching the visitors with intricate and sweeping attacking moves.
Columbus took the lead against the run of play at the end of a counter but it’s testament to the self-belief in this squad that the concession was shrugged off and the home team kept doing what they were doing, earning their just rewards in the shape of David Villa’s brace.
Former NYCFC defender Joshua Williams snatched the equalizer off a corner in the second period but the Boys in Blue kept pouring forward and only a terrific goalkeeping performance from the Crew’s no.1 prevented us from retaking the lead and winning the game.
Although it was a tied game and NYC had to rely on favors from elsewhere in the Conference, Vieira’s men probably deserved to win this match.
Zack Steffen had the game of his life, making a career-high seven saves to repel wave after wave of NYCFC attacks, culminating in his saved penalty in stoppage-time which led to a nervy couple of minutes following full-time while we waited for the results to come through.
Thankfully, Sebastian Giovinco’s late equalizer against Atlanta prevented us from being passed but there is nothing fortunate about our final placing in the league table…
A 34-game league is a marathon not a sprint and wherever you finish up is where you deserve to be at season’s end.
NYCFC can already point to season-on-season progress when it comes to goals scored, goals conceded and points accrued but let’s not forget that we’ve also moved up in the MLS Supporters’ Shield standings.
From 17th in 2015, to 4th in 2016 to 2nd in 2017, we’re making leaps forward with each passing year, performing at a high level consistently to establish ourselves among the league’s elite teams.
Now we’re into tournament soccer where decisions, fortune and moments all come into play – Toronto may have taken the Supporters’ Shield by a 12-point margin in the end but literally anything can happen from here on out…
Villa’s two goals weren’t quite enough to steal away the Golden Boot award from Nemanja Nikolic but that should take nothing away from the year the league’s reigning MVP has enjoyed.
Without the injury sustained on international duty, El Guaje surely would have scored the extra two goals required to at least tie the Chicago striker but Villa’s influence has been there for all to see this year as he’s consistently contributed to the box score.
From his hat-trick against Red Bulls to the 53.5 yard miracle goal vs. Philadelphia to name just two memorable feats, it’s been another incredible year for one of the best players MLS has ever seen but will it be enough to see him become the first man to ever retain the MVP award?
He’ll face stiff competition from the likes of Sebastian Giovinco and Diego Valeri but for David’s Head Coach, it’s a simple decision.
Vieira said: “No doubt about it, I would vote for David for the MVP this year. He's been fantastic for the team, for the league, and I think he deserves that award."
To say that you, the fans, brought it yesterday would be a huge understatement.
In the interviews which followed the game, every player and coach shouted out the incredible support the team received in this relocated game from the 20,113-strong crowd.
It was truly stirring to be present in Queens on Sunday as fans showed up in their numbers and created an incredible atmosphere which palpably aided the team in their quest to get the result required to earn the second seeding.
From everyone at NYCFC, thank you for your incredible support and we can’t wait to do it all again on November 5 back at Yankee Stadium.