Earlier this week, I wrote that a win for NYCFC over New England would be the biggest in club history. At full time, that feeling was undeniable. Not just in the fact that it had happened, but the way in which it had happened.
NYCFC have never won a penalty kick shootout, and have often looked inept taking them. Going against MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Matt Turner, who has historically been great against penalty kicks, the odds looked stacked against the Boys in Blue.
Nevertheless, NYCFC scored all 5 of their penalty kicks to advance. It was the type of calm yet ruthless mentality that the club has sorely lacked in big games historically and that is setting the 2021 squad apart from those that came before it.
New York City FC was the better team for 110 minutes in Foxborough on Tuesday night. They were calm in possession, won duels, and were generally well organized. The Night Owls created the kinds of chances that, on another night, would have made extra time unnecessary with better finishing.
New England was largely toothless from open play, with Sean Johnson only forced to make one truly difficult save prior to Taty Castellanos being sent off. Their first goal came from a set piece, but the back four of Amundsen, Callens, Chanot, and Gray kept a dangerous Revolution attack at bay. It was the type of defensive performance that makes two goals conceded appear harsh when looking back at the scoreline.
This match outlined the quality of depth that New York City has in its squad. Entering the match without Keaton Parks, Anton Tinnerholm, and Cacha Acevedo, Ronny Deila turned to homegrown right back Tayvon Gray to play in the biggest match of his career. He rewarded his manager with an assist and a strong defensive performance that shut down Tajon Buchanon. Alfredo Morales was also strong in the center of midfield, and seems to have grown into a key member of the squad after a difficult start to the season.
When James Sands went down, further compounding the injury issues at center midfield, Deila inserted sparingly used Tony Rocha to fill his spot. Despite not often featuring this season, Rocha turned in a strong performance when needed most as well.
After Castellanos was sent off, NYCFC was effectively down to 9 men for the last 10 minutes given Gray’s mobility was severely limited by cramping. While conceding a goal was heartbreaking, they did well not to concede for the 5 minutes of stoppage time added considering the circumstances, giving themselves a shot in penalties.
Last night’s win was a historic one in so many ways for the club. It represents the furthest they have advanced in the MLS Cup Playoffs, their first ever penalty kick shootout win, and what could be a turning point in how the club is perceived in big matches. They are faced with another difficult match against Philadelphia Union on Sunday, but to beat the No. 1 team in the league, on the road, is a memory that will long live in the minds of supporters regardless of what happens next.
The Boys in Blue were made to feel at home by hundreds of NYCFC fans who stayed long after the match to celebrate and sing loudly with the players who granted them the kind of statement win that has long been savored. To those of you reading this after a long, late night drive back from Gillette, get some sleep and rest up the vocal chords for Philly on Sunday.