By Marvin A Azrak The New York City Football Club has advanced to their first MLS Cup in club history, defeating the Philadelphia Union 2-1 on Sunday in the 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference Final. NYCFC, the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference, will travel to face Western Conference No. 4 seed Portland Timbers(20-4-13) in the 2021 MLS Cup on Saturday, Dec. 11 (3 p.m. ET / ABC, Univision, TSN, TVA Sports).
The Union entered the biggest game in their 11-year history, with 11 players ruled out of it because of COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Philadelphia was also seeking to reach its first MLS Cup final.
“You have 11 players that I feel awful for that had to sit at home completely healthy and watch this game,” coach Jim Curtin said. “If you give us back those 11 players, I think we can beat anybody,” he said. Of those 11, the loss of goalie Andre Blake was the most deflating. The two-time MLS Goalkeeper of the Year had 12 shutouts this season (11 wins, one draw), making 76 saves and posting a 0.96 goals-against average in the regular season. He stopped two penalty kicks against Nashville to lift the Union into the conference final and was carried off the pitch by his teammates.
But then suddenly, it all went kaput.
It’s believed the players were forced into protocol because of a party they attended after their 1-0 Double OT win over the New York Red Bulls in the Wild Card Round, where someone there tested positive for Covid-19.
But they opened the scoring in the 63rd minute, as a Dániel Gazdag cross intended for Kacper Przybylko deflected off New York City FC defender Alexander Callens and past the diving NY goalie Sean Johnson to give Philadelphia a 1-0 advantage. Sean wouldn’t allow another goal past him.
Just 90 seconds later, NYCFC delivered the equalizer off the foot of Maxi Moralez in the 65th minute, who buried the shot from six yards out past backup goaltender Matt Freese before bursting into a celebration with the road crowd in the left corner.
New York City FC’s back-breaking goal came in the 88th minute on the back of two substitutes, as a challenge won by Gudmundur Thórarinsson set up a short cross to Talles Magno and the go-ahead score. Magno cupped his ear as he ran off the field. New York players mobbed each other and saluted a couple of hundred fans that made the trip as Union players sat stunned on the pitch. Both Thórarinsson and Talles Magno entered the contest in the 58th minute. A record 19,487 fans packed the stadium and ultimately saw NYCFC walk away with their first-ever trophy. The celebration was jubilant enough that it interrupted coach Curtains presser, who said, “We’re next to the New York City oil
money locker room.”
This was a team that questions surrounded them whether they would make the MLS playoffs, and there was even a “Fire Coach Ronny Deila.”
Sign” outside their home turf. Yet, they rattled off five straight wins to finish 14-9-11(51 points) and date as the four seed with Atlanta FC at Yankee Stadium. They would win that one 2-0 backstopped by Johnson, before defeating the supporters shield winning #1 seed New England Revolution 5-3 on penalty kicks, perfect on the offensive side of the five-rounder.
“The mental thing as well when you’re winning a big game like that, the fact that we’re almost winning a cup final, that’s a thing we have to learn,” Deila said. “This is a good learning experience for us because we play again on Saturday and we have to be fresher than we were. Delia said In only his second year around the MLS.
Just in its seventh season of existence, NYCFC is finally beasts of the East. This club has won a lot of football games; they’ve been very successful coming to the playoffs six times in a row,” Deila said. “We haven’t dealt with the pressure before, and now we’re starting to do that. The learning through the whole club to win games and learn how to win them under pressure is something you have to learn over time.” “That club is doing that at a young age… We brought the first trophy home to the club, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. As I said to the boys, enjoy it because this is a big, big thing.”
I tried to share my excitement with many friends on Sunday, but all I got was a “Who cares” and “Marv, there’s RedZone on right now. How can you be watching soccer?” But now, this Major League Soccer team that is located at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx is the first team since the 2015 Mets to be this close to snapping New York’s record-long drought of a pro-sports title that currently sits at 3,592 days and will reach 3,597 by Saturday. The Giants, Jets, and Bills haven’t done it, the Nets stunningly fell nine wins shy last year, and the Islanders were five wins away before seeing the doors close on hockey at Nassau Coliseum for good.
“Going to Portland, a tough place, they’ve been in the final before; we haven’t,” said Deila.
But a win will crown New York City FC champions for the first time in club history and are the 17th different club in league history to advance to MLS Cup. All they need are 90 minutes of more Cinderella soccer, and they will be heroes down the canyon of heroes.