Sean Johnson savors "extremely special" NYCFC shootout win over New England

Sean Johnson celebration

As critical as Sean Johnson's penalty save was on Tuesday night, he relished what came after even more.

After Johnson dove to his left to stop Adam Buksa's kick from the spot, fellow New York City FC veterans Maxi Moralez and Alexander Callens successfully hammered theirs into the net, eradicating pain from previous misses in a sky blue jersey.

And when it was over, City had earned a 5-3 shootout win over the New England Revolution after playing to a 2-2 draw, securing their first-ever Eastern Conference Final appearance at the expense of the Supporters' Shield winners.

"It was special, an extremely special moment to see Callens step up, to see Maxi step up," Johnson said of the duo, who are both in their fifth seasons with NYCFC. "Callens has given everything for this club, Maxi has given everything for this club, and it means the world to get those moments to show how much it means and do everything we can for this team."

Both men missed from the spot earlier this year in a 3-2 shootout loss to Liga MX's Pumas UNAM following a 1-1 draw in the Leagues Cup quarterfinals.

Moralez also missed his attempt in the first round of the 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs, where NYCFC ultimately fell 6-5 in extra kicks to Orlando City.

Those ghosts were emphatically exorcised on Tuesday, with all five City takers easily finding the net. Callens hammered an emphatic shot down the middle to seal the tiebreak, after Moralez beat Matt Turner by drilling a low shot into the corner.

"As a team, I think we were extremely prepared for the penalty shootout, and it showed tonight," Johnson said. "We do what we have to do to prepare for the game, to prepare for any circumstance, and the penalty shootout is one thing that we had talked about and a moment that we wanted to embrace."

Manager Ronny Deila echoed those sentiments in the final talk he gave his squad.

"'Just to think about what to do, be calm and go for it,'" he said he told them. "It was our day. I felt it. So many things have gone against us the last two years. We finally get what we deserve, and that’s a good feeling."

While Johnson may have focused less on his own contributions, Deila was well aware of them – not only his stop of Buksa in the shootout but also his lone major involvement in regular time, an excellent sprawling denial of Gustavo Bou.

Only moments before, Moralez struck the post and Santiago Rodriguez forced Turner into a low stop of his own.

"His mentality is so strong," Deila said of Johnson. "He had a great save that was at 1-1, we had a couple great chances we should maybe have scored, but then they had a big chance and Sean saved it. But you need that if you’re going to go all the way."

Now, NYCFC march onto this Sunday's Eastern Conference Final at the Philadelphia Union (3 pm ET | ABC, ESPN Deportes), still able to host MLS Cup on Dec. 11.