NYCFC wins their first MLS Cup and when you look back at the 2021 New York sports year that championship has to be the major headline that overtakes the Yankees, Mets, Giants. Jets, Islanders, Rangers, Devils, Knicks, and Nets.
Yet, we don’t associate names like Sean Johnson and Valentin Castellanos with Aaron Judge, Pete Alonso, Kyrie Irving, Julius Randle, Kevin Durant, Zach Wilson, Saquon Barkley, or any of the other mainstream sports names of the New York sports landscape.
Soccer and the MLS has come a long way. NYCFC is not mainstream and has a loyal fan base that splits home games at Yankee Stadium and Red Bulls Arena across the Hudson River. They gave New York its first major sports championship since the Giants’ Super Bowl win in 2012.
In a year when sports continued to confront COVID-19, fans returned to the ballpark, stadiums, and arenas under strict medical protocols. That in itself was a major accomplishment and a reprieve from seeing cardboard cutouts posing as fans.
True, COVID is still a serious obstacle that continued to cancel ballgames and put players in league protocols as the year came to a conclusion. There is every probability the protocols, isolation, and cancellations will continue in the new year.
With a NCAA men’s and women’s basketball seasons underway, days away from conference play, the anticipation of a St. John’s team and a Big East title have been on hiatus with games canceled because of COVID protocols. Same goes for Fordham and some of the other locals. This has become a story as the new year begins which includes Iona College and the Rick Pitino coached Gaels up in New Rochelle, who were off to a good start.
Next to NYCFC, the Mets got a lot of attention. A billionaire owner learned in his first year that all of the money won’t buy a pennant or happiness. Francisco Lindor and his $340 million salary was a first year bust, Jacob deGrom was on his way to another potential Cy Young Award and got shut down because of injury.
Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil got into an altercation and it wasn’t a rodent in the clubhouse. Javier Baez came and went. Baez and Lindor gave the thumbs down to fans and later apologized. Lindor had a three-home run game on the day after the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Two general managers gone because of off the field issues, Luis Rojas lost control, and his managerial job, and moved across town to be a part of Aaron Boone and the Yankees coaching staff.
The Mets held first place over 100 days and continued a collapse that led to questions about a team that played below expectations. Prior to the closure of business, which has put the sport on hold as players and owners try to hamper out a new CBA, Steve Cohen hired Billy Eppler as the new GM.
Cohen spent his money, $254 million in four days. Max Scherzer got a lucrative contract and will join deGrom as possibly the best one-two punch on the mound. Cohen opened his checkbook for Starling Marte, Eduardo Escobar, and Mark Canha. The Mets will be without Michael Conforto, Marcus Stroman, and probably more.
But they leave the old year and go into the next as a vastly different and better team, and with the richest payroll in baseball they’re probably not done spending when a new CBA is reached.
Almost forgot, they hired Buck Showalter. The Mets pulled another coup and have, who many say is the best manager in baseball.
Across town it was supposed to be the Yankees. They also failed to play up to expectations in the Bronx. The season ended when the ace, Gerrit Cole, was ineffective in the AL wild card game at Fenway Park. Corey Kluber threw the Yankees 11th regular season no-hitter and injuries cut away the accomplishment and most of his season before departing for free agency.
Manager Aaron Boone was rehired after some suspense and his coaches took the purge. A new coaching staff joins Boone in 2022. The Yankees made no significant moves prior to the lockout and there are many questions that remain to be answered as the year ends.
The Giants and Jets were once again a bust. Explain how two football teams in the New York market can be this bad? This has become a recurring theme with quarterback issues, anemic offenses for both teams, and a fan base that is very inpatient. Robert Saleh has had some rough moments in his rookie year as Jets coach but overall has had a few accolades more than his predecessors.
I don’t know what to say about the big three of the Brooklyn Nets. But they will never win a championship when Durant, Irving, and Harden are not on the court at the same time. They teased fans this year and are a guessing game going into the new year. Kyrie can’t play in Brooklyn because he won’t abide by the COVID vaccine mandates and that story is ongoing.
At Madison Square Garden, the Knicks progressed with a new coach, a young and vibrant roster, but Julius Randle regressed as the Hawks and Trae Young put an early end to an unexpected and early exit from the playoffs. The enthusiasm returned and “Go New York ” was nice to hear again at the Garden as the Knicks ended an eight-year playoff drought. Though the year concludes with another regression and the Knicks looking for answers.
You have to admire how the Islanders have tried to adapt to their new UBS Arena in Elmont, NY. The team has to be credited with trying to keep a team on the ice with the consequences of COVID protocols and the enthusiasm of an April run to the Stanley Cup is now a distant memory.
As the Islanders made a run to prominence, it was the Rangers playing without Herik Lundqvist in goal for the first time since the 2005-06 season. Because of the pandemic, fan attendance was prohibited per executive order. The Knicks and the Rangers reopened the Garden to spectators in February, and of course, abiding with medical protocols.
Owner James Dolan cleared the house again and fired Rangers president John Davidson, GM Jeff Gordon, and head coach David Quinn. Gerard Gallant has taken over the helm and his team has seen some bumps along the road after a good start of the 2021-22 season.
Other highlights: The US Tennis Open returned to normal at Flushing Meadows with fans in attendance and the protocols but the roaming from one court to another was off limits.
And boxing returned to Madison Square Garden with two major shows that closed the year and rabid fans welcomed their return. Teofimo Lopez lost his unified lightweight titles via an upset to George Kambosos Jr. at the Hulu Theater in November. In mid-December, Visaly Lomachenko, who lost the titles to Lopez last year, won his second bout since that loss and is in line to regain the titles.
Goodbye 2021. Hello 2022 and hope for the best with your favorite team. We await the conclusion of a MLB lockout and hopes for the Mets and Yankees.
One thing was obvious. 2021 had a little bit of everything on the New York sports landscape.
Happy New Year to all. Be safe and well.
Rich Mancuso: [email protected] Facebook.com Rich Mancuso