Well, I hope everyone has had the opportunity to recover from last night’s scenes. I sure know I haven’t. Even so, New York City FC beat the New England Revolution last night 5-3 on penalties, sending them to the 2021 MLS Cup Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in history.
Man, that felt so good to type.
It feels like eons ago that we welcomed our boys in blue to Yankee Stadium for the first time against these same Revolution. There have been many US Open Cup games at Fordham and playoff disappointments between now and then, sure. But this one feels different. This team feels different.
I had the pleasure of being in the traveling away section at Gillette Stadium last night and could not be more sincere when I say there’s no other place that I would have rather been. The atmosphere was electric. Songs were sung, obscenities hurled, and beers were thrown in celebration. But never at Revs fans—they cost too much to waste.
As for the game, NYCFC were the better side. Flooding the midfield and carving out numerous chances through their sheer possession, Santi Rodríguez was magical, driving at defenders all night all while scoring an absolute wonder goal to set the tone both in the away end and on the pitch.
While one could hear me complaining about the lack of subs from Ronny Deila until late, the real managerial criticism should fall on Bruce Arena. The MLS Coach of the Year and Supporters Shield winner saw his team come out flat to start. After equalizing on a set-piece, the Revs were tactically stubborn. The sacrifice the Revs seemed to make, in playing both Buska and Bou at forward, came at the expense of the midfield. Arena should have reverted back to a 4-2-3-1 to garner more control in the center of the park. He didn’t, and our Boys in Blue reaped the benefits.
This lack of tactical acumen from Arena led to more of the same from City. While the chances were there for the good guys, the decisiveness in the final third left much to be desired. Make no mistake, the proverbial fat lady should have sung her heart out in regulation.
After a rather uneventful first period of extra time, came that Taty goal. Limbs, I tell you, absolute limbs. But, as we know, Taty giveth, Taty taketh away. A reckless challenge sees the MLS Golden Boot winner sent off with a second yellow card.
We really received the full and unadulterated Castellanos experience last night, and I absolutely adored it: Fluffed a sitter at the end of regulation, scored the go-ahead goal in extra time, then sent off is a sequence of events that seems to be commonplace for our star boy. Fun players who do rabonas and step-overs and score wonder goals are what you pay the price of admission for. Taty is that and more.
I’ll be honest and say I was mentally preparing myself for a loss in penalties. How could I not? I’ve seen this story before and I know many of you have as well. I was on my knees touching the cold Gillette concrete during Maxi’s penalty and, well, I basically blacked out. I was so terrified my mind went blank. When he stroked it down the middle it felt surreal, and I thought “We just might do this.”
Eventually, Callens put his laces through the ball, the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year was nowhere to be found, and NYCFC are going to Philly.
A lot of bottled-up emotion was expressed in a variety of different places last night and I think it’s mostly because we know this team is and has been so much better than what it has shown in the business end of the playoffs. This team, with its lack of star power, hampered by injuries, and inconsistent home venues was the one to lead us to our furthest playoff appearance. Not the team with David Villa, Frank Lampard, and Andrea Pirlo. Try explaining that to someone who’s just woken up from a coma.
While the media and experts seem to be concerned about the potential weakened lineup that NYCFC might play in Philadelphia on Sunday due to injuries and suspension, I’m not. There’s a serene calmness I seem to possess right now for this football club. I am not completely sure why I feel this way, because nothing in NYCFC’s past supports my confidence. But I think it is because I only yearn for one thing…
The 2021 MLS Cup Final in a baseball stadium.
See ya in Philly.