Sunday evening in nearby Philadelphia, the Union had their rematch with NYCFC of last year’s Eastern Conference final for the MLS CUP. But this wasn’t last December when NFCFC had their marvelous run in the postseason and won their first MLS Cup in franchise history.
Then, that was a marvelous run to the Cup. NYCFC could do nothing wrong and carried their late season momentum to the postseason. They got their keys to the city as the first major sports team in New York to win a championship since the 2009 Yankees World Series title.
But at Subaru Park, in a city that has embraced the Phillies and Eagles, their soccer team now vies for their first MLS Cup next Saturday in Los Angeles against Western Conference champion LAFC.
NYCFC had the momentum in this playoff run to another MLS CUP. Interim coach Nick Cushing had his team riding a winning streak, similar to what his predecessor did last year. Though this matchup was different, NYCFC was decimated with some key injuries against a team that suffered a similar situation in the 2021 Conference final.
No excuses, though, as to why NYCFC will not defend their coveted MLS Cup that was proudly displayed around New York and at Yankee Stadium, Citi Field, and Red Bull Arena, their home venues.
They battled. NYCFC dealt with adversity as an assistant became the coach during mid season. Valentin Castellanos, their leading scorer and 2021 winner of the “Golden Boot” for most goals scored in the league took a lucrative offer and was loaned to Girona FC of LaLiga in Spain.
Cushing was in that situation of trying to find the right scoring combinations. The adjustments continued as NYCFC had difficulty finding the net, though keeper Sean Johnson continued to set records with one clean sheet after another.
And, yes NYCFC found a way to win again and notch a third seed in the East as they began their journey to defend and get another MLS CUP.
But for a span of 12 minutes, the Union were better. Johnson could not contain a healthy and good Union offense in the second half. NYCFC had to battle and this time the adjustments were not enough after a Maxi Moralez goal in the 57th minute gave them a 1-0 lead.
Different from last year and NYCFC knew they were not the better team. But now, Johnson will be in goal for the US National team that begins World Cup play in two weeks as next season the complexion of this NYCFC roster is sure to change.
Cushing is a lock to return when the brief offseason concludes. And Johnson has indicated he will return to get NYCFC back to the Eastern Conference finals in their quest for another MLS Cup.
“Good moments, bad moments, proud of the guys, the group,” Johnson said. “It wasn’t easy with the adjustments- the changes. Played a lot of games, a lot of success but disappointed. Year like this, it’s easy to look at all the moments. We will be looking at next year. The club will be in this position.”
Yet it was difficult for Johnson to respond about the disappointing conclusion and not being able to defend the MLS CUP next week. Again there are no excuses, despite NYCFC being without defender Maxime Chanot and forward Talles Magno.
Two key players not available for NYCFC, and almost similar to a Union team that was decimated with a COVID-19 breakout that kept key players out of the conference final match last year.
Again, no excuses here because NYCFC, up until the final minutes, always believed there was hope for a late comeback and a return to the MLS CUP championship. They had that winning mentality under Cushing as they battled adversity and had another great run until those three Union goals in 11 minutes.
“No excuses,” Cushing said. He was always confident with his roster. In the end, though, it is difficult to duplicate a championship season and more so back-to-back championships. All NYCFC has to do is ask their Yankees tenants in the Bronx.
The Yankees were the last major sports team in New York with three consecutive World Series championships. Now, though, the city of Brotherly Love will see another team continue their quest for a championship.
Rich Mancuso: [email protected] Facebook.com Watch “Sports with Rich” live on Tuesday Nights at 8pm EST on The SLG Network/Youtube with Robert Rizzo Available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify under The SLG Network.