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Tournament Bums to Tournament Favorites: How NYCFC Conquered Their Boogeyman

NYCFC flip the narrative in a critical 90 minutes against Toronto FC

Toronto FC v New York City FC: Knockout Round - MLS Is Back Tournament Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

What a difference 90 minutes can make. We sat here just days ago disappointed, but relieved. New York City FC had just beaten a woeful Inter Miami after one long ball found the feet of Ismael Tajouri-Shradi who finished past Luis Robles. City hadn’t played well and sat on the outside, looking in on the knockout stages of the MLS is Back Tournament.

A couple of results go their way, including the 90th minute LA Galaxy penalty vs the Houston Dynamo, and City is undeservedly thrust into a knockout round matchup against Toronto FC. The same Toronto FC who knocked NYCFC out of the playoffs last year and beat NYCFC to start the 2020 regular season. As you can tell, my hopes were very high before kickoff.

What occurred after that tweet was NYCFC’s best performance in a long time. City did not only beat TFC, but they also did so convincingly and almost without a hitch. It felt good — almost too good — and I may or may not have gotten carried away on Twitter.

Now that the dust his settled and I have a good night’s sleep in me, we can look at what made City successful last night and why this team is now set up for a serious run at the MLS Is Back Tournament crown.

Looking at the initial lineup, I again had my questions. As per usual, I questioned Ronny Delia’s love of Jesus Medina. I will eat my words yet again with this one; Medina looked good out there last night, in the middle of the field no less. He even looked good when he was forced out wide following the injury of ITS. His goal wasn’t a thing of beauty, but he’s scored two goals in this tournament. He also squandered a great chance to score a brace. But, Medina’s effectiveness came with the press. He was right up on TFC’s players in possession forcing mistakes and creating turnovers. Ronny Delia has found a use for Jesus Medina. It may not be long term or long-lasting, but it’s a promising sight to see out of City’s designated player.

Medina wasn’t the only player out there that made the press look good. It was a collective masterclass from City, especially when it came to the counter-press. I can remember multiple instances where City lost the ball and almost immediately got it right back. That want and work rate made it very difficult for TFC to string together any meaningful possession, especially in the midfield phase of play. Micheal Bradley was unable to pull the strings for TFC and he really struggled on the field last night.

Another key aspect last night was the way City neutralized TFC’s attack. Alejandro Pozuelo and Pablo Piatti were shells of themselves last night. Credit goes to the City defense, but extra credit goes to James Sands.

Sands was easily NYCFC’s MVP last night. He was an absolute game wrecker and limited TFC in the attacking phase of play. He won almost every ball he went into, had a couple of key interceptions, and rarely misplaced a pass. He may not get the recognition he deserves because he’s not the name on the score sheet. But without Sands, City wouldn’t have been as effective in shutting down TFC’s key offensive pieces.

We can talk about tactics and the little intricacies of the game last night, but City’s success can also be chalked up to the want and fight this team had last night. I’ve been a doubter all season and rightfully so. Delia’s team has looked a shell of their former selves almost all season, until last night. These players heard the noise and responded.

It seemed like City had a sense of entitlement to start the season. This team thought that they should win games because they had before. They thought, “we’re NYCFC, we deserve to win this game.” Last night, they went out there with a point to prove. It didn’t feel like business, it felt personal. This team shook off the majority of haters and doubters in the span of 90 minutes and restored the idea that this team should be one of the best in MLS.

I’m a man that is never convinced of something until I see a larger sample size. I’m not convinced that what we saw last night is what we’ll see again Saturday, but it’s a start. Beat the Portland Timbers or FC Cincinnati in the same way, then maybe you’ll have my blessing.

Either way, City went from tournament bums to one of the tournament favorites overnight. It only took 90 minutes for it to become fun to be a fan again. If we can make TFC look that small, imagine what else this team could be capable of.

Be careful MLS, it’s looking like NYCFC is back.