New York City FC playoff dreams still alive after shootout win

Nov 30, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New York City defender Alexander Callens (6) celebrates his goal for the victory against New England Revolution during the shootout in the conference semifinals of the 2021 MLS playoffs at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 30, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New York City defender Alexander Callens (6) celebrates his goal for the victory against New England Revolution during the shootout in the conference semifinals of the 2021 MLS playoffs at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports /

New York City FC and the New England Revolution faced off on Tuesday in a cold Eastern Conference Semifinal battle.  New England was coming off the bye, and had about three weeks between fixtures.  Meanwhile, NYCFC beat Atlanta United a little over a week ago to move on in the playoffs, and looked to use the momentum against their opponent.

Everything was on the line, and fans expected both teams to battle it out.  Of course for the Pigeons, they were playing in enemy territory, and the poor away record during the regular season was still fresh.  The team had to play their best football in order to beat the Supporters’ Shield winners.

Despite the home advantage for the first place side, NYCFC had the edge over New England for the majority of the match.  But neither team could find the winner in regulation or extra time.

So, like the game against Orlando City SC in 2020, NYCFC were once again in a penalty kick shootout in the playoffs after a 2-2 draw.  This time around, the Pigeons found themselves on the winning side, and beat New England 5-3 in the shootout.

New York City FC beat the New England Revolution in a penalty shootout to proceed in the MLS playoffs

The high intensity fixture began right away.  Both teams had an early goal in the match.  It was New York City FC though who opened up the scoring with a goal from Santiago Rodríguez.  In the third minute, Jesús Medina fed a through ball to Tayvon Gray.  The right-back ran to the right side of the box, and found Rodríguez.  The Uruguayan then swept the ball past Matt Turner to put the Bronx Blues in front.

However, that lead did not last long.  Adam Buksa of New England scored off a free kick from Carles Gil, heading the ball into the back of the net in the ninth minute.  But neither team let the goals dissuade them, and continued to fight for a second goal.  Still, neither could find another in regulation.  NYCFC did lead with over 60% of the possession, and then led with 14 shots compared to New England’s eight.

While regulation was a fun and intense, back and forth affair, extra time was another story.  At first, New England took control of the game.  But in the second half of the added thirty minutes, NYCFC took the lead again.

In the 109th minute, the Pigeons had an attacking possession, and were knocking on the door of New England.  Then, Gudmundur Thórarinsson, who came on for Malte Amundsen, spotted Valentín Castellanos making a run in the box.  The Icelandic player served the ball to the striker from near the end line, and Castellanos headed the ball past Turner, leaving the Goalkeeper of the Year and the rest of the Revolution stunned.

Yet, the joy did not last long.  Within minutes, Castellanos was sent off with a red card after picking up a second yellow, and NYCFC had to defend.  Additionally, Gray looked to be injured, and was limping toward the end of extra time – although he said afterwards that it was cramps that plagued him in the end.  So, New England took advantage, and in the 118th minute, Tajon Buchanan tied the game for his team.  Thus, in the end, the Pigeons were forced into another penalty kick shootout.

Historically, New York City FC never won a penalty kick shootout, and went into Tuesday’s without Castellanos.  Between those two factors, the Bronx side ultimately had their backs against the wall.  But Sean Johnson saved a penalty kick from Buksa, and NYCFC scored all of theirs.  It was Alexander Callens who scored the winner to send the Pigeons to the Eastern Conference Final for the first time in the club’s history.

Furthermore, not only are they moving on, but they did it against the Supporters’ Shield winner.  That is an incredible accomplishment, and both the club and fans alike can celebrate the historic moment.

Once again, there are concerns going into the next match

To begin, NYCFC played a good game.  They took their chances, and despite a rough extra time period, controlled over 57% of possession.  And of course, they finally won a penalty shootout.  Younger players like Gray and Rodríguez shined in the high pressure moments, and were vital options in the attacking third too.

Alas, there are concerns heading into the fixture against the Philadelphia Union.  The biggest one is that Castellanos will be out due to the red card.  Truthfully, the second yellow was a poor foul, and the Argentine deserved the card.  Sadly, he has now put his team in a tough position, for NYCFC will be without the Golden Boot winner this coming weekend.

Hence, the team will need all of the attacking help they can get.  Players like Thiago and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi are probably the top options to add to the attacking third, but Ronny Deila has to think about the overall attack too.  After the last match, it was discussed how Thórarinsson should start because of his service ability, and since he is stronger in the attack.  As a result, Deila must consider this.  Amundsen has improved, and is fantastic in the defensive end, but the Icelandic player clearly has the edge in the attack, and that was seen when he was substituted on in the New England match.

Also, there are now questions surrounding James Sands.  The young midfielder had to go off due to injury, and the Pigeons are thin in the defensive midfield.  If Nicolás Acevedo is not yet ready to play a full 90 minutes, then Deila will have to adjust his starting lineup tactics.

Nonetheless, history has been made, and New York City FC are on their way to the Eastern Conference final.  The team went to the Revolution’s home, fought a back and forth battle, played the remaining twelve minutes down a man, and at some points, down two, and then won their first penalty kick shootout.  Concerns aside, this is a moment that fans will remember for the rest of their lives.