BRONX, N.Y. – The trophy hoist on the podium, the champagne showers in the locker room, these things never get old for New York City FC interim head coach Nick Cushing.
“It’s the reason why we do the job,” Cushing said. “There’s a moment when the players lift the trophy, and of course, we do this job to create winning teams, but when I look at the podium and I see a guy like Kevin O'Toole celebrate with our team, he made his professional debut today and had an incredible game for a guy that has never played at this level. It just reinforces why we do the job.”
And unlike the club’s first-ever silverware win – MLS Cup 2021 in Portland back in December – there’s more to the 2022 season for NYCFC.
For veteran defender Maxime Chanot, who wore the captain’s armband Wednesday night, the Campeones Cup result provides the perfect tonic for a late-season run into the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs. The Cityzens are stuck in a rut of one win in their last 10 league games.
“I do believe the victory of tonight is the start of something big,” Chanot said. “It’s gonna happen with this club and this team.”
Chanot’s confidence comes from experience – having endured a similar slump late last season before going on their magical run through the playoffs. And from the knowledge that key players are back from injury, including his longtime partner in central defense Alex Callens, who scored the opening goal inside the opening five minutes against Atlas.
Despite NYCFC’s league form – they’re winless in their last five, raising questions about where the team’s ruthless identity has gone – Chanot said the belief has never wavered inside the locker room that a turnaround was possible.
“I might maybe surprise you but if you come into the changing room even after the last loss against Charlotte or the draw against Cincy, you’re going to keep seeing smiles on the face because for whatever reason, I cannot even explain why, we trust ourselves,” Chanot said.
The proof, of course, is in the results and NYCFC have a massive rivalry fixture coming up at Yankee Stadium Saturday (1:00 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+) against a surging New York Red Bulls side.
More than bragging rights are on the line – the Red Bulls are currently third in the Eastern Conference standings, having clinched a 13th consecutive playoff berth Wednesday night. They are also four points ahead of NYCFC, who are still in a position to host a playoff match (fourth place), but challenges are coming from Orlando City SC, FC Cincinnati and Columbus Crew in a tight stretch drive.
NYCFC handed the Red Bulls a 1-0 defeat in Harrison back in July. Three games remain to clinch a playoff spot.
“It's an opportunity to be a springboard, but we also had a really big win against Chicago away and had a moment on the pitch after that and then lost games,” Cushing said. “We just have to obviously enjoy this because it's a big moment for us, it's another trophy for the football club, but at the same time, the Red Bull game will be incredibly difficult. I think both teams are pushing for position.
“We obviously haven't had many wins in MLS. And I also think our performance at Red Bull Arena earlier in the season will hugely motivate them.”