“This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang, but a whimper.”
T.S. Eliot ended his seminal work, The Hollow Man, with one of the most quoted lines in English literature. Eliot proved strangely prophetic for New York City FC’s 2016 campaign, and it looked as though the 2017 campaign would follow suit.
At least they went out with a bang.
Columbus Crew SC advanced to the MLS Eastern Conference finals, 4-3 on aggregate, following a 2-0 loss to NYCFC at Yankee Stadium Sunday night. Having earned a first-round bye and possessing as lethal an attacking weapon as there is in MLS in David Villa, the wind was certainly in NYCFC’s sails.
But nearly from the get go in Columbus, NYCFC were playing from behind, as Justin Meram’s early goal and Alex Callens’s dumb red card weighed like an anchor on City’s chances to pull out a win.
Still, Patrick Vieira’s squad had the raw talent and mindset to put Tuesday in the past and came prepared to dominate on Sunday. They narrowly missed their chance.
The first 15 minutes were full of near misses, including a Maxi Moralez pass that was a little too strong for Villa to corral and a Federico Higuain break that was squashed by left back turned center back Ben Sweat. Alex Ring had a decent chance, but it rocketed off of Jonathan Mensah’s shin.
Rodney Wallace helped get NYCFC off to a flying start by earning a penalty, and Villa buried it past Zack Steffen to catapult them to a 1-0 lead. NYCFC definitely looked the aggressor early on.
In the 28th minute, Columbus went on the offensive. Ola Kamara had a clear-cut opportunity, but Sean Johnson prevailed with a fine save. In the 35th, Meram almost curled in a great goal, but Johnson barely tipped it away.
Moralez had the best chances in the first half. The first came from open play in the 39th minute with a shot inside the six-yard box, but Steffen — who has really flourished in the playoff crucible — had other ideas. In the 44th, Moralez came inches short of tacking on another when he failed to covert a cross.
The second half got off to a cracking start for NYCFC. Andraz Struna thumped one off of Mensah into the back of the net — his own goal put New York up 2-0. The crowd finally started feeling that they could pull off the impossible. Wallace came excruciatingly close with a header from about 10 yards out, but Steffen again came up with the save. Moralez almost tied it with a header of his own from a Jack Harrison cross in the 66th minute, but narrowly missed, drawing an exasperated groan from many in the crowd.
Harrison then missed an even easier chance, as he was denied off of a breakaway in the 67th minute on a play that he scores on 95 out of 100 times. Wallace knocked one off of the post soon thereafter.
Wallace didn’t stay quiet for long, though. Less than 10 minutes later, his cleat caught Steffen in the chest, earning him a yellow card and Steffen the chagrin of the crowd.
With five minutes left in regulation, the crowd was deafening, still believing that New York could complete the comeback. In the 89th minute, Andrea Pirlo came on in what was his final professional game — and the stadium erupted. Sadly, the Hollywood moment never came for Pirlo, as NYCFC fell 4-3 on aggregate.
The Boys in Blue fought hard until the end, but were unable to overcome the daunting challenge that Columbus presented. Still, NYCFC played well enough this season to earn a first-round bye, and they look poised for success in the future.
Congrats on a great season, NYCFC.