MLS Cup Analysis: NYCFC’s first-ever Championship

New York City FC wins first-ever MLS Cup trophy on December 11, 2021
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ANALYSIS – Yesterday, NYCFC’s first-ever championship was achieved. They won the game in thrilling fashion in a penalty shootout. After six consecutive post-season appearances, they finally got their first-ever MLS Cup trophy.

NYCFC’s first-ever Championship won in penalties

2021 MLS Season Concludes

A victory in penalty kicks over Portland Timbers last night earns NYCFC’s first-ever Championship, crowning them the fourteenth ever MLS Cup Champions as the twenty-sixth Major League Soccer season comes to a close.

NYCFC’s road to the cup final was an interesting one. It was filled with challenges to overcome for both themselves and their opponents and while they weren’t always the favorite team the pigeons were road warriors and got things done when they needed to.

The Back-and-Forth of Full-Time

Following an Eastern Conference Final against a depleted Philadelphia Union squad in which NYCFC advanced on a last-minute winner, the club seemed to be at a disadvantage heading into Portland. Especially given the difficulty that comes with playing in Providence Park and all the MLS Cup Playoff experiences that players like Diego Chará and Dairon Asprilla have.

No doubt the constant rain throughout the match aided in levelling the playing field and helped NYCFC to strike first with a Taty Castellanos header slipping under the gloves of MLS veteran Steve Clark. Fitting the goal would start on a Maxi Moralez free-kick to earn him the assist, highlighting NYCFC’s Argentinian duo who were top-notch all year.

Moralez was truly in great form for the final. This was despite battling through a calf injury to stay on the pitch during the game. From the starting whistle, he was constantly on the attack and managed a shot on goal in just the opening seconds, secured the assist on Castellanos goal, and struck the bar with a free-kick to open the second half, all at 34-years-old.

While NYCFC was able to keep Portland quiet for most of the second half, the Timbers really controlled the game for the final 10-15 minutes. This includes Portland putting together a few opportunities on goal before added time. After a fantastic 12 goal regular season and scoring the winner to send Portland to the MLS Cup Final, it seemed almost written-up for Felipe Mora to tie the match as time expired.

Extra-time and Penalty’s: The Pigeons Prevail

Extra-time saw minimal opportunities for both sides with the real excitement coming as the game went down to penalty kicks. Once again it would seem Portland had the advantage with Providence Park rocking and NYCFC kicking into the Timbers Army. However, it would be Castellanos to drill it home followed by a Sean Johnson save on Mora which saw NYCFC maintain an early shootout lead. 

Despite the great play from Moralez, Castellanos, and several other NYCFC players this is ultimately why having a backstop like Johnson was so crucial to the success of City this season. Clark would save the next NYCFC penalty from Alfredo Morales but Johnson steps up again and makes another save this time on Timbers legend Diego Valeri. The two shootout saves would earn Johnson a much-deserved MLS Cup MVP award.

From there, NYCFC would go perfect from the spot managing the pressure of the Timbers fans and ending it with an Alexander Callens penalty to send NYCFC home champions of MLS. 

NYCFC’s first-ever Championship

Eight seasons in MLS has seen NYCFC crowned MLS Champions having only missed the playoffs one time in their short history within the league. From the top-down NYCFC’s whole squad played an important role throughout the playoffs starting with veteran guys like Moralez, Johnson, and Maxime Chanot who stepped up when most needed. Their young attackers in Castellanos, Talles Magno, and Santiago Rodríguez all play an important part. All the way to their homegrown talents such as the consistency of James Sands and Bronx native Tayvon Gray taking over for the injured Anton Tinnerholm back in October. 

While NYCFC wasn’t always the strongest team on the field, under Ronny Deila this is a well-coached and built team. They had all the necessary tools to win an MLS Cup and they finally showed that this season. A wild MLS Cup Playoff campaign that seemed to throw roadblocks at every turn rewarded the consistency and professionalism of NYCFC. The Bronx Blues got it done when they needed to whether it was a dominant victory or a last-minute winner, ultimately earning NYCFC their first-ever MLS Cup championship.

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