How NYCFC Got to the Eastern Conference Semifinal
By Aidan Baller
This season has been a rollercoaster for New York City Football Club who managed to secure the fourth seed in the MLS Eastern Conference table. From Sep 3. to Oct. 20, the Pigeons won only one of their ten games. Despite this rough patch of form, they managed to earn themselves a home opening-round playoff game. This New York City team has been defined by runs of good form all season, constantly searching for consistency in their play. After defeating Atlanta United, the Pigeons are now set to face the top-seeded New England Revolution. Now three wins away from an MLS Championship, let’s go back and look at how New York City got here.
The Bronx Fortress
The Pigeons were very much defined by their performances at Yankee Stadium, winning six of their nine games in the Bronx. Their first win of the season came against Cincinnati, winning 5-0 with goals from Jesus Medina, Gudmundur Thorarinsson, and Taty Castellanos. The victory was the first example of New York City’s dominance in the Bronx, a trend that would continue throughout the season.
Similarly, the Pigeons picked up another 5-0 win against Orlando with the five goals coming from five different goal scorers. In the next game in the Bronx, New York City defeated the Columbus Crew 4-1, continuing their excellent home form on the small Yankee Stadium field.
Furthermore, NYCFC would beat New England, which was one of the Revolution’s five regular-season losses. The Pigeons were led by Castellanos who scored a brace, lifting them to a 2-0 victory which ended New England’s nine-game unbeaten run.
The final two wins at the Bronx would be back to back and serve as a huge confidence boost going into the playoffs. After being winless in their previous six games, the Pigeons defeated DC United and Chicago by scores of 6-0 and 1-0, respectively.
The final regular-season game was at Yankee Stadium against the Philadelphia Union. After a Gedion Zelalem red card and conceding a goal in the first half, the Pigeons’ aspirations of hosting a playoff game seemed dire. A spark then came in the 53rd minute when Maxi Moralez assisted a Castellanos header which served as the game-tying goal. The 1-1 draw lifted New York City to the fourth seed, allowing them to host Atlanta United in the opening round of the playoffs.
The dominance in the Bronx would be continued by a 2-0 playoff win against Atlanta. So far this season, the Pigeons at Yankee Stadium have outscored their opponents by a score of 25-4.
Perseverance on the Road
New York City won four games on the road during the regular season, displaying their ability to persevere in new environments. Their first road win would be against the Philadelphia Union by a score of 2-0. Next, the Pigeons would win a tight game against Los Angeles FC by a score of 2-1.
The final two road wins were crucial to New York City’s playoff hopes. After losing two of their last three games, the Pigeons traveled to Cincinnati. After being down 1-0 to a Brenner da Silva goal, New York City’s Keaton Parks and Castellanos both scored to end the game 2-1.
New York City’s final away game of the regular season was against Inter Miami CF. The Pigeon’s led by a Castellanos brace would pull off a 3-1 victory to secure a spot in the playoffs. The victory would be their third in a row and served as a major confidence boost heading into the postseason.
Winning on the road is essential to a deep playoff run, especially having to travel to New England. These key away wins in the regular season serve as reminders that this New York City team is capable of beating anyone and anywhere.
A Powerful Attack
New York City’s attack was led by Taty Castellanos who led the MLS in goals, scoring 19 goals and producing eight assists. In the last four games of the regular season, the Golden Boot winner scored six goals to propel the Pigeons into the playoffs. The 22-year-old from Argentina has played a vital role this season and if New York City is going to win the MLS cup he will likely need to be a major contributor. Additionally, Maxi Moralez led the team in assists this season with 12 continuing to show that he is an essential part of this strong attacking side. This season offensively the Pigeons led the league in shots on target per game and finished fourth in goals scored per match at 1.7.
A Dominant Defense
This season New York City on average conceded one goal per match which was the fifth-best in the MLS. Similarly, the Pigeons had 12 clean sheets which is the second-most in the MLS behind four teams tied at 13. The defense is led by center backs Alexander Callens, Maxime Chanot, defensive midfielder James Sands and Goalkeeper Sean Johnson who have continually stood firm all season and will look to serve as a backbone for a deep playoff run.