NEW YORK – Another second place finish in the Eastern Conference, another Conference Semifinal ouster for New York City FC.
For NYCFC coach Patrick Vieira, the emotions are disappointment and frustration, but also pride in the effort his team showed to pull within a goal of reaching the Eastern Conference Championship after a furious second-leg rally in a 2-0 win over Columbus Crew SC Sunday at Yankee Stadium.
“When you look at the game, it’s difficult for me to ask more about my team and the players because they give everything they had tonight,” Vieira said. “I’m really proud about the way they played and the way they fight tonight.”
The players had belief they could make history and erase a three-goal deficit from the opening leg loss at MAPFRE Stadium. They attacked in waves from the opening whistle, got goals from David Villa and Andraz Struna early in each half and twice hit posts in a scintillating second half.
“It was one of our best efforts of the season,” goalkeeper Sean Johnson said. “I thought we were unlucky not to score the third, we all believed it was possible. I’m sure you got that sense from the start of the game that we all came out of the gates guns blazing. It’s really disappointing to come up on the short end of it.”
Vieira lauded his team’s effort in the second leg, congratulated Crew SC on advancing, rued that stoppage-time goal by Harrison Afful in the first leg and lashed out at the officiating in the two legs in his post-match press conference.
“I think when you look at the two games and you look at the [Alexander] Callens sending off, I think that had as massive impact on the game today,” Vieira said. “Of course, the referee today with the time their keeper was taking to play, I think it was really frustrating, he tried to kill a little the tempo of the game. I believe the referee didn’t manage it well at all.”
Although it was a second straight loss in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, this felt different than last year’s 7-0 drubbing on aggregate by Toronto FC.
“I think tonight we were really close, I think we looked more solid as a team and we were closer than we were last year,” Vieira said. “I think last year we were really naive, but I think tonight we had a really good discipline on the field and that gave us a chance to get really close. It is a really good experience for myself as well and as a team, as a football club, we will improve and we will get much stronger next year.”
That was the pledge by midfielder Alex Ring in the NYCFC locker room after the match as well.
“It’s a tough one to chew on for sure right now after the game, probably the next one or two weeks,” Ring said. “After that, we put our mind on next season and next season, I guarantee you we’ll go further than this season.”