It was Cascadia on a rampage, in all its damp, misty noise and fury. The rain battered Providence Park. The gusts of wind that swept through the renovated stadium proved too strong for the large inflatable MLS Cup trophy, which gently collapsed during the pre-game ceremony on Saturday afternoon. And the crowd was Portland era – loud and engaged, and ready with flags, drums and smoke. Some supporters had slept on the sidewalk to make sure their seats were secure. A Long Night Out of Providence Park is one of many original and deeply rooted football traditions unique to a city and region that have embraced the sport differently, and possibly with more fervor, than any. other in the country.
This is what New York City FC was up against. A club that had seen few playoff failures in its short seven-year history had to deal with an environment steeped in decades of dedication, not to mention the symbolically inhospitable weather (including a flying can of beer and well directed), the controversial Portland, last breath of equalizer then, finally, the tension of the shots on goal caught in the teeth of the Timbers Army.
It’s hard to see a New York team as an underdog or upstart, especially one backed by the wealthy and ambitious conglomerate of City Football Group. But the contrast between this year’s MLS Cup contenders was real. The Timbers are a Portland institution. NYCFC is essentially homeless – it will be shuttling between baseball stadiums next season – and it struggles to be relevant. Winning a title in this setting, and overwhelmed by that pedigree, was such a big request for any runner-up in the league’s 26-year history.
The pedigree and relevance change with the championships. The brands are embellished with a star on the jersey, and the NYCFC will have earned the one it will wear from next year thanks to Saturday’s triumph. The visitors were fearless. They did not collapse. The New Yorkers won the final in Portland at home and took the advantage on a first-half goal from a young CFG star. The NYCFC then pushed back the hosts’ goal late in the game to win, 4-2, on penalties after the 1-1 draw. U.S. National Team goalie Sean Johnson, who has been in the Bronx since 2017, made two shootout saves and then, as Cup captain and MVP, hoisted the trophy through hostile territory that they had conquered. Keeping a promise he made to his players, NYCFC coach Ronny Deila stripped down and did push-ups to celebrate.
NYCFC’s victory deprived Portland of a second MLS Championship and, instead, brought the title to the nation’s largest market for the first time. New York rival Red Bulls, who are also familiar with playoff frustration, fell in their only MLS Cup final appearance in 2008.
For the winners, it was a championship campaign of steadily resilient resilience, marked by significant injuries to several key players and the embarrassment of commuting between Yankee Stadium and Red Bull Arena. With just five games left in the regular season, the NYCFC had won just one in nine and was below the generous league playoff line. A draw to death in Atlanta seemed to ignite a spark, however, and the NYCFC finished with three wins in four games and the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
A relatively stress-free 2-0 win over Atlanta in Game 1 of the Playoffs then somehow seemed to put the NYCFC on a different playoff lane. Despite having the most regular-season points in MLS since 2016, the Bronx Blues had won just one round of the playoffs in five previous Cup races. It was if they kept all their poise and good fortune for this fall.
And so, when the Supporters’ Shield-winning New England Revolution looked rusty after a long layoff, the NYCFC took the opportunity, scored twice and advanced on penalties to Foxborough. Then in last weekend’s Eastern Finals, the Philadelphia Union was wiped out by the coronavirus and belatedly succumbed to the depth and pressure of visitors. NYCFC deserved to move forward on both occasions. He had figured out how to stay in knockout games and then eliminate them. So, when the penalties presented themselves on Saturday, Johnson told his teammates to consider the opportunity. Against all expectations, they were on the brink of a championship.
“We said before the penalty shoot-out, don’t see it as a pressure situation. Embrace the moment, ”Johnson told ABC at the Providence Park Field. “I just wanted to stay there and do what I can to help the team. We have taken a giant leap forward. I managed to make a few stops and the boys buried the rest.
The Timbers rejected by Johnson over 12 meters, Felipe Mora and Diego Valeri, are respectively a top scorer and an icon in the league. The big names in NYCFC have behaved differently. And these are big names in relative terms – not massive figures like David Villa, Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo – the legends who signed when the club launched in 2015 (only Villa did well). Despite CFG’s largesse, NYCFC has evolved in its approach, focusing on finding the type of second-tier stars that flourish in the US and Canada and so often inspire MLS champions. Think Valeri, Sebastian Giovinco of Toronto FC, Nicolás Lodeiro of Seattle, Miguel Almirón of Atlanta and Lucas Zelarayán of Columbus.
NYCFC has a pair in veteran playmaker Maxi Moralez, 34, and 23-year-old forward Taty Castellanos, who won the MLS Golden Boot this season. NYCFC certainly spends money, but not in an extravagant way. His payroll was the sixth-highest in the league this season, according to the MLS Players Association, and Moralez, a unique top XI pick, placed ninth individually. CFG’s resources and benefits are as much about scouting, experience, relationships and reach as they are gross expenses listed.
When he signed with Club León in early 2017, Moralez said he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work with Villa, Pirlo and then-coach Patrick Vieira. Castellanos, who was a steal this season at $ 776,000, came from CFG’s Uruguayan club Montevideo City Torque. With 10 teams in 10 countries, CFG can transfer and loan players up and down the ladder. And while NYCFC has yet to see any of its products stay in Manchester, it has developed likes like Gio Reyna and Joe Scally while benefiting from the pipeline below. Titles are also won. CFG teams in Manchester, Melbourne, Mumbai and now New York are the reigning champions of the league.
Moralez limped noticeably towards the end of the first half in Portland, but he stayed in the game and in the 41st minute delivered a perfect free kick that fell to the wide open Castellanos head. His head slipped into the hands of Timbers goaltender Steve Clark. Saturday’s final was the Argentine’s seventh consecutive game with a goal. Jesús Medina was hit by the can as the NYCFC celebrated.
Moralez stuck around to convert his penalty into a shootout. His young compatriot, Castellanos, was also successful.
Once dressed, Deila praised Moralez during his post-match press conference.
“He would never leave this field. It was Maxi’s game. He’s been here for many years. … Now he wins the big trophy and he deserves it, ”said the manager. “There wasn’t a single thought in my mind that he was going to leave.”
Determination in the face of pain and in the face of the elements, the crowd, setbacks and perceived injustice made the difference. The NYCFC unsuccessfully protested Portland’s equalizer in the 94th minute. Timbers center-back Larrys Mabiala appeared to foul Maxime Chanot during the frantic build-up, but neither the referee nor VAR agreed and Mora was there to bring the ball home. Chanot was furious. The NYCFC then flexed a bit, Deila admitted, but he was able to survive the revitalized woods and another 30 minutes inside Providence Park. NYCFC then went 4-5 on penalties.
“When you come back from that, through the two extra times and then at the end also with the penalties in this stadium, on the artificial pitch [surface], by the weather they like to do, and the atmosphere was electric, ”said Deila. “So belief, discipline and hard work, hard and honest work, pays off and it’s great to see. “
It was an appropriate microcosm of a season, in which the comforts of home were hard to come by and there were often plenty of clouds present before the sun finally broke through.
“In the end, it all happened. What we did in this playoffs and also the month before we entered the playoffs is so impressive. I’m so proud of the boys, ”Deila said. “You can see the honest work, how they deal with the tough times during the game. They come back. They support each other, give everything for the club and for each other. It was amazing. And they are winners now. They are winners and they will be there forever.
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