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NYCFC's season officially ends with blowout loss to Tigres UANL in CONCACAF Champions League

Tigres forward Andre-Pierre Gignac, right, heads the ball

Tigres forward Andre-Pierre Gignac, right, heads the ball away from New York City FC defender Maxime Chanot, left, during the first half of a CONCACAF Champions League soccer match, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020, in Orlando, Fla.  Credit: AP/John Raoux

New York City FC’s 2020 season finally reached its merciful end with one final loss late Tuesday, concluding a cursed campaign fitting of a plagued year.

With a 4-0 loss to Tigres UANL on Tuesday night in Orlando, NYCFC was eliminated from the CONCACAF Champions League by a 5-0 aggregate score, ending its first appearance in the competition 299 days after it began. The defeat came 279 days after NYCFC’s 1-0 loss in the first leg of its quarterfinal with Tigres on March 11, the club’s final match before COVID-19 shut down the sports world.

In those 279 days, NYCFC had a handful of highs under first-year head coach Ronny Deila, reaching the quarterfinals at the MLS is Back Tournament and making the MLS Cup Playoffs for the fifth straight year. But through it all, NYCFC struggled to overcome early adversity, failing to come from behind to win a single match in which it conceded the first goal in the regular season (0-8-1). That extended to the postseason, in which NYCFC lost in penalties to Orlando City SC in its opening match, and it continued Tuesday when NYCFC never looked up to overturning the deficit from March.

"It has been a long season," Deila said. "We were here one year ago almost now when we started up the preseason, and there's been a lot around the team over the last week or so with COVID and different other things so I have to give the players credit to fight to the bitter end. But today we were off, and we deserved to lose in the end."

Tigres attacker André-Pierre Gignac scored the second leg’s opening goal to give the Mexican side a bit more breathing room, beating Maxime Chanot to powerfully head home a cross by Luis Quiñones in the 30th minute. Tigres all but sealed their fate in the 49th minute with a skilled build-up to a back-heel flick into the net by Leonardo Fernández. Any doubt was removed in the 64th minute when Rafael Carioca buried another header into the box, giving Quiñones his third assist of the night. Javier Aquino finished off the scoring, catching City out of position and beating Chanot in the 85th minute.

Aside from the first leg score, NYCFC entered with a handful of limitations fitting of 2020. Playing its first match since Nov. 21, the club didn’t travel to Orlando for the tournament’s centralized resumption until Tuesday morning, a delay necessitated by three positive tests among NYCFC players. Starting goalkeeper Sean Johnson was deemed a close contact to a player with a positive result, keeping him at home for the tournament and thrusting backup Luis Barraza into his professional debut.

NYCFC captain Alex Ring was unavailable Tuesday following a previously unannounced knee surgery. James Sands remained out while recovering from a foot injury earlier this season, and Keaton Parks was left on the bench to begin the match. The hole in central midfield resulted in Maxi Moralez dropping deeper alongside Nicolás Acevedo at a higher rate than usual, in turn hindering the club’s ability to create quality chances involving its best playmaker.

By night’s end, the match played out much like the rest of NYCFC’s disappointments this year — a good chunk of possession, lots of shots, but too few on target or troubling for the opposing keeper and not enough precision to finish the job.

"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," Deila said. "So it was a tough task I knew that before, but you have always a chance and always believe, 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 was a bit more hard to get. But we tried to finish just as good as possible."

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