New York City FC tore off the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs bumbler tag they've worn for the last five years in business-like fashion on Saturday, procuring their first-ever MLS Cup with a penalty kick shootout triumph over the Portland Timbers.
The visitors carried play for the majority of regulation time, patiently waiting for a breakthrough that would come via Best XI striker Valentin Castellanos near the break. They would suffer a last-second Timbers leveler by Felipe Mora, but eventually shook off that trauma to emerge triumphant from the spot.
As a periodic reminder, my ratings are on a scale with "6" as average. Also, grades are handed out relative to playing time, so a "7" earned over a full shift is more impressive than one received for 15 minutes of action.
HIGHLIGHTS: Portland Timbers vs. New York City FC | December 11, 2021
The Cityzens netminder had very little to do until he pulled off a game-saving stop in extra time. Johnson then put NYCFC in the shootout driver seat by smothering Portland's first two tries from the spot.
It was a mixed bag for the 19-year-old right back, who left his area open for Mora to score the Timbers equalizer. That said, Gray also offered some support for the attack and came up with a couple of big stops during phases where Portland were starting to gain momentum.
Aside from the moment where he dozed off on a quick Portland restart, Chanot was large and charge at the back. He stopped several potential counter rushes cold and made a huge area shot block late.
The NYCFC defender wasn't quite as domineering in defense as his partner, but still showed good range to rack up a handful of solid interventions. There were a couple times when Callens got himself caught up, but teammates were able to cover for him. Of course, he also capped the game by holding his nerve to bury the decisive penalty kick – just like he did against New England.
The Iceland left back served his intended title game function to a tee. Thorarinsson's willingness to push up helped NYCFC keep Portland on their heels for large swaths of the match and he also pitched in with some good work at the defensive end.
It was a quintessential "tone-setting defensive midfielder" display from the youngster. Sands almost never gave Portland room to operate in or around Zone 14, and his progressive passing repeatedly opened up new lanes for his teammates.
I won't be too hard on the guy for failing to convert in the shootout, because Morales had one of his most comprehensive outings for this club in the biggest game in their short history. Morales was stepping into every lane and challenge he could find (which is very normal for him), and made more than enough forward-thinking passes (which is not) for us to forgive a couple of giveaways in bad spots late in the first half.
Not long before halftime, I thought for sure the NYCFC string-puller would be coming off with a knock. But no, Moralez ran and battled for all 120 minutes, providing his team with both possession solidity and the big restart delivery on their opener. Not only that, but the guy who once kept missing spot-kicks made it two big ones in a row during this title run.
Though he never grabbed a big moment by the horns, Medina did a lot of the glue work you'll often see on an MLS Cup winner. The No. 19 shirt helped link NYCFC's possession and repeatedly hustled back to put his body on the line defensively.
What more could you ask from your striker in the big game? Castellanos put his side in front with a clinical downward header in off the wet turf, and never stopped working. He won dangerous free kicks, he acted as a pressure valve, he got back for some set-piece defense and, to top it all off, he buried the first spot try of the shootout to send NYCFC on their way to glory.
On the ball, it was a very quiet game for Rodriguez. He was more of a nuisance than a deterrent on the defensive side of the ball. But that helps, too.
The boss darned near got this job done exactly like he drew it up. His boys carried play until they had a lead and didn't allow much to get in on Johnson ... until they did mere seconds from winning MLS Cup. Deila somehow managed to get his players' heads right (even if it basically took the whole first overtime session to lift the stupor) so they could make NYCFC history.
The typically electric NYCFC attacker was largely invisible or ineffective over his 40 minutes.
Just like Thorarinsson met his left back brief as starter, Amundsen served his in extra time by squashing a few Portland advances.
Some decent hold-up work in extras to take some wind out of Portland sails plus a successful conversion in the shootout equals good value for 25 minutes.