NYCFC players celebrate after defeating the Portland Timbers to win...

NYCFC players celebrate after defeating the Portland Timbers to win the MLS Cup at Providence Park on December 11, 2021 in Portland, Oregon. Credit: Getty Images/Steph Chambers

Yes, it counts. You’re darn right it counts, not only for NYCFC and its supporters, but for the broader community of championship-starved metropolitan-area sports fans.

Or, to put it a slightly different way (using a Marv Albert voice): Yes, and it counts!

The recently retired Albert, you might recall, is the famous soundtrack of a famous New York NBA franchise that last won a championship in 1973 – four years after the Jets and three years before the Nets last did so.

Come to think of it, the Jets, Knicks, Nets, Islanders, Mets, Rangers, Red Bulls and Liberty all are oh-for-the-21st-century when it comes to winning it all, and the Devils, Yankees and Giants are each a decade or more past due.

So again: Yes, we should embrace what NYCFC did on Saturday, winning its first MLS Cup with a thriller over the Timbers in Portland.

The teams were tied at 1 after regulation and extra time, then the Bronx-based visitors won on penalty kicks, 4-2.

It’s OK if you missed the game live on ABC. But it is not OK to dismiss the import of the moment.

 

To do so would be an insult to soccer fans in general, and in particular those in Portland who stood and sang for 2 1/2 hours in a cold, windy, driving rainstorm – a scene for which there is no equivalent in North American sports.

That includes the 2,500 or so NYCFC fans who showed up and were so loud they could be heard on the telecast chanting over the home crowd.

It also would be an insult to the team itself, which sneaked into the playoffs with a strong regular-season finish then won four playoff games.

NYCFC overcame playing home games not only at its official base in Yankee Stadium but also at the home of the rival Red Bulls in New Jersey as it continues to seek a new stadium of its own.

And in the final, NYCFC somehow recovered from seeing Portland equalize the score in the final seconds of regulation time, the soccer equivalent of a game-tying buzzer beater.

Early in extra time, ESPN analyst Taylor Twellman said NYCFC was playing as if it had seen a ghost, but eventually the players regained their bearings and won on PKs behind two stops by goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Johnson was named the team’s MVP in his first MLS Cup final appearance after 321 regular-season games.

"It feels unbelievable to be able to call ourselves champions," he said. "You know, what a ride so far. This journey was crazy this year. So many ups, so many downs.

"We talked amongst ourselves before the game and said this is a massive opportunity to make it all worth it, and this is what we live for, these moments. To be the MVP of the finals means the world, but it means so much more to lift the Cup for this club."

Let’s not take the underdog narrative too far. NYCFC is backed by two of the biggest, richest brands in sports in Manchester City and the Yankees.

But still: This was cool, a championship won in only the seventh year of the franchise’s existence, one fewer than the 1969 Mets.

Don’t bother dismissing the achievement with "it's only soccer." As someone who has lived through 50 years of soccer as the next big thing in American sports, I can report it now IS a big thing, whether or not it is your thing.

The best argument against treating NYCFC’s victory in the same breath as other New York-area teams has nothing to do with soccer compared with other sports, but rather MLS compared with other soccer leagues.

The NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL are the best leagues in the world in their respective sports. MLS is . . . not.

Many American soccer fans care more about the English Premier League and other European circuits than MLS. That’s fine, and that’s fair.

That distinction is one reason that when I have annoyed readers with previous columns about New York’s title drought since the Giants won Super Bowl XLVI, I have called it an NFL/MLB/NBA/NHL drought.

That dry spell – the longest in a century – continues, and it will mark its 10th anniversary on Feb. 5.

NYCFC did not exist when the Giants beat the Patriots in that long-ago Super Bowl. On Saturday, the lads in light blue gave us a welcome taste of what used to be commonplace around here.