NYCFC goal celebration

As Ronny Deila approaches his 40th game across all competitions as New York City FC’s head coach, he has no doubt where Saturday’s dramatic 2-1 win over LAFC stacks up during his time in charge of the Bronx-based bunch.

“That's by far the biggest win,” Deila said postgame without hesitation, calling the Black & Gold a "top, top team" in MLS. “Last year when we played Toronto away, Columbus away, I think we haven’t been close to winning. We had Orlando last year, we improved. We made it an even game and this year now we beat Philadelphia away and Orlando draw [away].

“Now win here in LA, that's saying something about the group and that we're coming far now to work together as a group. Be compact, be together and also opportunities to create when we have the chances. Sometimes you have to defend, especially away from home, it's a totally different ballgame, and then we have to attack in a different way. But it's good that we can do both.”

Deila originally took over NYCFC in January 2020, joining after a multi-year stop at Norwegian club Valerenga and time with Scottish Premiership powerhouse Celtic FC. His first season, aside from looking to carry forward the momentum Dome Torrent and Patrick Vieira created, involved navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and its profound impact on the MLS schedule.

NYCFC finished fifth in the Eastern Conference before dropping a Round One Audi MLS Cup Playoff game at Orlando, a memorable game with several red cards and a 6-5 shootout win for the Lions. That provided a disappointing end to an otherwise solid season from the Cityzens, with Deila applying his own twist to what’s consistently been one of the Eastern Conference’s elite clubs.

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Now, after coming from behind against LAFC, his squad feels invigorated. Jesus Medina’s curling strike in the 70th minute canceled out an early goal from Corey Baird, allowing Ismael Tajouri-Shradi to bundle home a flicked-on corner kick in the 90th minute for the win.

“It's a massive moment for us,” goalkeeper Sean Johnson said. “We've been in situations, on the other end of results, late on in games. Now we really had a chance to show our character, but for me, we talked about before the game, right before we walked out, it's about believing. At any point in the game, this group's extremely close, the togetherness, that's never going to be questioned.

“But I think it's just challenging the guys to always believe, and I think we saw it in the game where every single player came on and gave us a spark. It didn't matter that we went 1-0 down, there was just a hunger and something about the group today that we never believed we were going to lose that game.”

NYCFC’s result is even more inspiring when considering midfielder Nicolas Acevedo was shown a red card in the 86th minute after accumulating his second yellow card following an initial caution in the 66th minute. And over the last two weeks, disputed referee decisions contributed to 1-1 draw at Yankee Stadium against Toronto FC, followed by two Lucas Zelarayan free kicks prompting a 2-1 loss against the Columbus Crew. The pieces were there for another setback, but NYCFC punched back via Tajouri-Shradi’s late winner off a Medina corner kick.

“It was tough of course, the red card, which from my point of view was crazy,” left back Malte Amundsen said. “But I think it shows a lot, that we're able to bounce back and win this game in the dying seconds. It's such a great honor to be a part of a team with this killing, winning mentality. Now I think we got a little bit [of] justice after two robberies the last two games, so it feels great right now.”

NYCFC’s “massive win,” as Deila called it, gives them confidence going into the June international break, with MLS entering a multi-week pause ahead of the Euros and Concacaf Nations League. When they return on June 19, they’ll host the Eastern Conference-leading New England Revolution in a clash that’ll have top-of-the-table implications.

They're also poised for greater contributions from Brazilian acquisitions Thiago Andrade and Talles Magno, two forwards with upside. The latter, a Young Designated Player signed from Vasco da Gama, made his debut against LAFC as part of a four-man substitution pattern in the 67th minute that changed the game's entire complexion.

“If you see the last few games, we've been unlucky,” Tajouri-Shradi said. “So today, the luck, we worked for the luck. We turned the luck into a win and I think as a team everyone is happy today to take the three points. It was so important before the break to get us going. Then after the break, we have to go again and win more games.”

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