New York City FC had a 3-1 advantage going into the second leg against Comunicaciones F.C. on Tuesday night in Guatemala. In order to move on into the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals, the Pigeons just had to play well and defend. They could not allow the Guatemalan side to earn a 2-0 win, because then the Bronx side would exit the competition.
Meanwhile, the Pigeons were without Tayvon Gray and Santiago Rodríguez due to injury. This led Ronny Deila to go with three center-backs, and opt for a more defensive approach like the match in the first leg. Then, the full-backs could fall back to a five-man backline in the defensive third, and move into the attack in the final third.
Nonetheless, Deila put out a strong squad between his Starting XI and bench options. The result was in NYCFC’s hands, and sadly, they almost blew it. The Pigeons lost 4-2 in the second leg of the CCL quarterfinals, and then drew their opposition 5-5 on aggregate. Thankfully, away goals drove the team into the semifinals of the CCL for the first time in their history.
The second leg though was extremely ugly, and it is a miracle they are moving on. Again, the ball was in their court, or in this case, their pitch, and the pathway should have been simple. Alas, that was not the case, and one cannot help but admire the way Comunicaciones fought their way back. If not for away goals, then one can only imagine where this would have gone.
New York City FC lost 4-2, but move on in the CCL thanks to away goals
In some odd way, everything worked out for New York City FC. They might have lost the second leg, but their away goals, the defensive efforts that came into fruition, and mere luck led them to continue their journey in the CCL. Sean Johnson made some vital saves, including the save on the line after a header attempt from José Corena right before the first goal for NYCFC.
However, there were the moments where the defense just completely fell apart, especially during those three goals by Comunicaciones in the second half. Notably, those goals came after Deila made a quadruple substitution. At the same time, the Guatemalan side was an offensive train in the final 45 minutes plus stoppage time. Their fight and effort clearly led them to a deserving win, so the substitutions possibly could not have mattered. Ultimately, those four changes will be questioned, and rightfully so.
Also, NYCFC has a talented bench, and Keaton Parks, Chris Gloster, Héber, and Thiago were the talented substitutions that came on with just over half an hour to play. Unfortunately, Gloster and Thiago struggled immensely, and overall the team fell apart afterward. As mentioned, three of the four goals came after those changes, and the Pigeons just struggled both offensively and defensively.
On the other hand, it would be silly not to give credit when it is due. Comunicaciones played incredibly well, especially in those final thirty-plus minutes. They fought tooth and nail to come back, but away goals kept them from reaching their goal. Arguably, NYCFC held on just enough to continue their journey in the CCL. But the final third of the game was dreadful, and defensively a horrendous mess. Again, are the substitutions to blame? Or was it the fight and grit from the Comunicaciones players?
Moment of the match for New York City FC
In the end, New York City FC is moving on. Yes, they lost, but there were many efforts that could be considered the moment of the match for the team. But, the moment of the match has to go to Valentín Castellanos’ goal in the 31st minute. Not only did he get New York City FC the first needed away goal, but it was wondrous and unexpected.
The Pigeons had won a free kick a little outside the box, and surprisingly Castellanos stood next to the usual free kick taker, Maxi Moralez. Normally, Moralez looks for his fellow Argentine within the box, but that was not the case. Even more surprisingly, Castellanos stepped up to take the free kick.
What happened next was absolutely magical. The forward stepped up and kicked the ball around the right side of the wall, completely going around the opposing defenders. The ball then slightly curved toward the ground, and thanks to the pace and power from the kick, snuck into the bottom right of goal. Sure, the Comunicaciones goalkeeper, Kevin Moscoso, went the right way. Still, he could not beat the strike, and Castellanos added another goal to his CCL tally.
Now, fans have seen some impressive goals from the 23-year-old. This one though will be remembered. For starters, Castellanos does not take free kicks, so for him to take one and score is incredible in itself. In addition, the goal itself was just amazing. He went around the wall, and with pace and power, caused the ball to go into the back of the net. It was a golazo closer to the ground, but nevertheless a golazo.
Hence, this is just one more item Castellanos can add to his list of highlighting his talent. From his 2021 season and the way he is performing in the CCL thus far, it would be ridiculous if the Argentine does not move on this summer. His time to go to Europe is now. In the meantime, he will just keep adding to his legendary history as a player New York City FC player. Plus, he gets to play in the CCL semifinals, which is another historic moment for the Pigeons.