PORTLAND – For the first time in their history, New York City FC are MLs Cup Champions! They defeated Portland Timbers on Saturday afternoon in the MLS Cup Final at Providence Park. The stars for the Pidgeons showed up, with the DPs combining on a goal. Alexander Callens and goalkeeper Sean Johnson came up big in penalties.
NYCFC win MLS Cup in Portland in Penalties
Both teams got a boost to their starting lineup. Sebastian Blanco made the starting lineup, having suffered a hamstring injury on Thanksgiving. Valentín “Taty” Castellanos started as well, having been suspended for the Eastern Conference Final. George Fochive started in midfield with Cristhian Paredes on the bench due to a calf injury.
The visitors started brightly with Maxi Moralez getting the first shot less than a minute in. They had more of the ball in the first half, trying to get the ball into wide spaces to Tayvon Gray to provide service into the box. Portland was compact defensively and looked to play in transition, as expected.
It took Portland 20 minutes to get going offensively, almost on cue from the Timbers Army with their pink smoke demonstration in favor of female player safety. Sebastian Blanco asked questions of the NYCFC defense. Dairon Asprilla had the best chance in the 26th minute with a shot from outside the box.
The 24th minute was chosen based on the numbers Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim wore when they played for the Thorns. The players reported coach Paul Riley’s sexual harassment to the Timbers/Thorns front office but he got to keep coaching in the #NWSL anyway. #MLSCupPlayoffs https://t.co/rt5YRF4Dsi
— Caitlin Murray (@caitlinmurr) December 5, 2021
Moralez appeared to be injured in the final minutes of the half. He was seen grimacing in pain and his movement off the ball was limited. The No. 10 persevered however, providing the critical service on a set piece to Castellanos in the 41sth minute. The Golden Boot winner headed the ball past goalkeeper Steve Clark, rolling it off the far post and in.
The half ended 1-0. Jesus Medina went down during the goal celebration, being struck by a bottle thrown from the crowd. The Timbers confirmed at halftime that the fan who threw the object was ejected from the match.
— New York City FC (@NYCFC) December 11, 2021
City picked up where they left off to start the second half with multiple good looks off set pieces.
There were shouts for a penalty in the 54th minute. The ball clearly went off the arm of Maxime Chanot, but only after deflecting off a Timbers player and the center back’s leg on a ball whipped into the box. Timbers manager Giovanni Savarese made a double substitution in 62 minutes bringing on Paredes and Santiago Moreno, subbing off Blanco who was largely ineffective.
Felipe Mora had a great chance in the 82nd minute on a set piece with no defender around him and just Johnson to beat. He couldn’t get a touch onto the cross from Yimmi Chara and the keeper collective.
Hope appeared to be lost despite Diego Valeri coming on in the final minutes. In the final five seconds of stoppage time, Mora scored on the rebound of a Jaroslaw Niezgoda shot. The goal was controversial as Chanot wanted a foul called on Larrys Mabiala for contact in the air to create space for Niezgoda to shoot. The match headed to extra time.
— Portland Timbers (@TimbersFC) December 11, 2021
The first half of extra time was cagey and uneventful. Gray was denied by Clark on the first good look for City on 112 minutes. That sprung a counter attack that saw Paredes cut inside and bend a ball that Johnson saved acrobatically in the air. NYCFC had a few good passing sequences in the final minutes, but nothing came of it. The match went to PKs.
Penalties were taken in front of the Timbers Army. Johnson saved the first two takes by Portland, diving to his right on both Mora and Valeri. Clark denied Alfredo Morales with a great reaction dive to his left. With the score at 3-2, Callens blasted the ball high and to the right in the bottom of the fourth round to clinch the championship.
ALEX CALLENS WITH AUTHORITY! 💥
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) December 11, 2021
Three Key Takeaways:
Playmaker injuries: Both No. 10s dealt with an injury in this game. Blanco was recovering from a hamstring injury and did not look his usual self. In 62 minutes, he managed just 0.1 xG+xA according to MLSSoccer.com. Questions will be asked about the decision to start him. On the other side, Maxi Moralez powered through a first half knock. He wasn’t great in defense but was good on the ball.
Officiating: Armando Villarreal, for all his measured work in the first half, will be a talking point, especially in the Chanot household. Should Chanot have been called for a penalty in the first half? Did Mabiala trying to play the ball absolve him of a foul on the tying goal? Why did VAR not have Villarreal go to the monitor in either of those cases?
A first every trophy: Coming into MLS with all the fanfare of City Football Group, the aspiring super club finally have a trophy. Ronny Deila pushed all the right buttons in these playoffs. Moralez and Castellanos performed like star DPs in a final on the road. Sean Johnson won two road playoff shootouts and the bench got the job done in the conference final.