New York City FC don't control their own destiny when it comes to opening the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs at Yankee Stadium. That doesn't mean the prospect is completely out of the question, though, especially after Sunday night's 5-2 victory over the New York Red Bulls in the latest chapter of the Hudson River Derby.
Despite Orlando City's 1-0 win at the Montreal Impact, if Orlando or Columbus Crew SC lose their final two matches and the Cityzens top Chicago Fire SC on Decision Day presented by AT&T, the 4th seed is theirs. The odds of this happening increase considering Orlando and Columbus play each other on Wednesday.
HIGHLIGHTS: NYCFC vs. New York Red Bulls
HIGHLIGHTS: NYCFC vs. New York Red Bulls | November 1, 2020
It might be a tough ask, but NYCFC head coach Ronny Delia can rest assured knowing that his club did their part, scoring their most goals in the history of the derby.
"We knew that if we won this game that we would keep it exciting until the last game," he said. "Now Orlando and Columbus can't [make] any mistakes. If they do, then we are (right) there if we do our job.
"Chicago's going to be a tough game. They are one of the best teams to play. If we don't [play well] there, we can get in big trouble. But at the same time, we beat them last time and we really want to do that again."
Regardless of what happens, NYCFC have already safely clinched a spot in the postseason, and after a big night from Valentin Castellanos, Delia will be leaning on the Argentine — as well as fellow attackers Gary Mackay-Steven, who scored on Sunday, and Jesus Medina — to continue to be active as the club pushes toward a first championship.
For the first-year boss, it starts with continued confidence and belief in the group, even through difficult stretches.
"We believe in the players," Delia said. "They have been through some hard times, Taty lately, and Gary [in] the period he's been here and Jesus had it tough last year. So you have to, again, keep on working with them, give them opportunities, and then they (will) understand that they are great football players and they get more and more confidence."
If the Cityzens do end up in the top 4, it will look upon Castellanos' best performance in MLS — scoring the 5th hat trick in club history and adding an assist — as a key factor. The striker had been struggling this season with just two goals and is Deila's lone option up top with Heber out for the year.
WATCH: Castellanos' hat trick
NYCFC striker Valentin Castellanos breaks out with hat trick vs. New York Red Bulls
It was a much different feeling in the opposing dressing room, as the Red Bulls were left licking their wounds after their heaviest defeat to their cross-river foes as a five-game unbeaten run came to a screeching halt. The loss comes with Toronto FC coming to town next week looking to add a second Supporters' Shield to their trophy cabinet and with the playoffs right around the corner.
"If you allow a team like New York City to pass the ball around at ease and at will, it's going to be tough for anybody," interim head coach Bradley Carnell said. "We pride ourselves on our proactive defending and I felt that slipped away from us today. I can't blame the players. This is something that has to go on my cap and I take full responsibility."
Still, Carnell hopes that with the Red Bulls having already clinched a playoff spot, Sunday can serve as a "reality check", especially with an opportunity wasted to send a message to not just its opponent, but the entire league.
"Big apologies to the fans, because this hurts the most and certain games like this, where we want to achieve more and really make a statement in the league and show where we are and who we believe to be," he said. "And then we just get our feet taken away from us.
"Disappointing for sure, learning moments for sure, but we’ll bounce back, and work harder than ever to finish the season in the right way."