It was a deflating end for New York City FC's 2020 Concacaf Champions League campaign, which came to a close at Exploria Stadium in Orlando on Tuesday 10 months after it began, with a disappointing 4-0 defeat at the hands of Tigres UANL in the second leg.
After the match, head coach Ronny Deila said he couldn't fault his team for their effort, but that it was ultimately the club's inability to sustain a promising start to the match that proved decisive. The Cityzens were in the game and series until Tigres striker Andre-Pierre Gignac scored a back-breaking 30th-minute header that opened the floodgates for the Liga MX powerhouse, which showed the quality that makes them such imposing Concacaf opposition.
"I think we did OK in the first half," Deila said. "We had good control of them and had the ball a lot as well, it was even in the first half. But they showed real quality in that first goal, that was a really good cross and the finish is top, top class and we go 1-0 down. Second half I think we gave away a really good goal, and then it's going to be tough the rest of the game.
"I think you could see the quality in Tigres. Up front they have players that can, as I said before the game, if you make simple mistakes against teams like this, then it gets punished and I think they did that. When we did something bad on the ball or didn't defend the way we wanted, we got punished hard and then it got hard in the second half."
Highlights: Tigres 4, NYCFC 0
The task in front of NYCFC was always a daunting one, even outside of the talented opposition. The club was without several players for the match, including starting goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who was deemed a close contact of one of the three players that tested positive for COVID-19 in the week leading up to kickoff. On top of that, the positive results forced the club to alter their travel plans and fly to Orlando on the morning of the match.
Even so, Deila said he felt the vibe around the team was positive and his players had the necessary belief, but that it just didn't manifest itself for long enough on the field.
"I think the boys were up for it," Deila said. "The atmosphere before the game was really, really good. I think also the fight, I can't [question] the fight, they really tried. As I said, the first half was good, but we have a long time now without playing games and at the same time we lost some important players on the way. So it was a tough task,
"I knew that before, but we always have a chance and always belief and there was a lot of belief in the group today. But when we get 2-0 down I can see that of course the belief is more hard to get, but we tried to finish as good as possible."
It brings NYCFC's long and winding 2020 season to a close, with Deila's focus now shifting to 2021. The coach said he feels good about where the team stands after an improved run of form down the stretch and a narrow playoff defeat to Orlando City SC in penalty kicks, and that he's soon to put his mind toward figuring out how to build on that and take a step forward into MLS Cup contention come next season.
"We were much more compact in what we do [defensively], we were creating chances and winning football games," Deila said. "The last 17 games, I think we had 11 wins with just three losses and also in a competitive playoff game we were very close to go through against Orlando.
"It's small details now we need to improve to be a team that can really fight for the title and that's what we want to do next year. We need to keep on believing in our culture, believing in our style of play. At the same time, we need to add some players now because we have lost some on the way and also it's important we get some new blood so we get something extra into the team."