Members of New York City FC celebrate after defeating the...

Members of New York City FC celebrate after defeating the Portland Timbers to win MLS Cup at Providence Park on December 11, 2021 in Portland, Oregon. Credit: Getty Images/Steph Chambers

New York City FC never has been shy about its intentions since joining Major League Soccer in 2015.

The club and its majority owner, City Football Group, expect it to be among the biggest in the league, a championship-caliber team that can match the glory of sister club Manchester City and help turn New York into a global soccer capital.

NYCFC now has the trophy to start on that path and back up its talk.

The 2021 MLS Cup belongs to New York City, the first title in the club’s seven seasons, after surviving a last-second equalizer in regulation and winning the penalty-kick shootout, 4-2, after a 1-1 result.

"Everything came together in the end and what we have done in these playoffs, and also the month before we came into playoffs, has been so impressive," NYCFC coach Ronny Deila said. "I’m so proud of the boys. I’m so grateful to be on this team . . . They came back, had to support each other, give everything for the club and for each other. It was amazing and they are winners now. They’re winners and that’s going to be there forever."

City captain Sean Johnson stopped the first two shots in penalties. NYCFC saw Valentín Castellanos, Maxi Moralez, Talles Magno and Alex Callens come through in front of a raucous crowd to seal the victory.

Johnson was named the 2021 MLS Cup MVP for his penalty stops.

With less than 15 seconds left in the allotted stoppage time and the entire Timbers squad pushed forward, Portland’s Felipe Mora struck a loose ball that rolled to his feet off a blocked shot, sending it past the diving Johnson to equalize in the 94th minute of regulation. NYCFC appealed for a foul by Larrys Mabiala on Maxime Chanot to no avail, continuing to argue throughout extra time.

MLS Golden Boot winner Castellanos, returning from a suspension in the conference final, put NYCFC in front with a 41st-minute header that proved too difficult for Portland keeper Steve Clark on a wet day at Providence Park.

New York previously had not claimed a major professional sports championship since February 2012, when the Giants defeated the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI.

NYCFC’s win is the first MLS Cup victory by a New York team in the league’s 26 seasons. The Red Bulls reached the final once before City’s inception, losing to the Columbus Crew in 2008.

NYCFC’s title also is the area’s first top-flight soccer title since the New York Cosmos won Soccer Bowl ’82 for their record fifth title in the defunct North American Soccer League.

While New York City appeared to be the better team throughout, the Timbers never looked out of it. Portland allowed NYCFC to keep the ball often, but couldn’t break in transition as designed. City had difficulty working the ball past Timbers captain Diego Chará in midfield, instead working through the outside.

Moralez seemed to aggravate a calf injury around the 30th minute and clearly was hobbled for NYCFC. Yet after Bronx native Tayvon Gray won a free kick near the end of the half, the veteran Moralez stepped up to claim it. The 34-year-old whipped in a perfect ball toward the back post, finding his striker in the box. Castellanos didn’t hit it clean but got enough of it to trouble Clark on a stormy afternoon. The keeper couldn’t get a grasp on the shot and watched it scurry along the goal line for the score.

City seemed to be doing enough to seal its title in the second half, but as the Timbers made a series of late attacking subs, the chances came more often, culminating in the dramatic tying goal by Mora. A shook squad couldn’t make much happen in extra time, but Johnson and his teammates got the job done in penalties.

An up-and-down season for NYCFC ended with the title thanks to improved character and togetherness, plus some energy from the traveling City fans, Johnson said after the win.

"Family, that’s one thing that we emphasize all year, the togetherness of this group," he said. "Our fans are incredible, 2,000-plus traveling six-plus hours across the country. We heard them in full force tonight. They spurred us on in extra time and the PK shootout to go forward and win it. That’s something that we can be proud of as a club, showing character, being together, and ultimately that’s what won us the Cup."

This was New York City’s sixth straight postseason appearance, but the club nearly didn’t give itself a chance at glory. In a six-week stretch beginning in early September, City earned only six points in nine matches, including a draw and two losses against the Red Bulls, the last of which sent NYCFC outside the playoff picture. But Thórarinsson’s late free kick to tie Atlanta United next time out started a five-match unbeaten run to close the regular season, launching NYCFC into the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference at 14-11-9 (51 points).

NYCFC utilized two second-half goals to beat Atlanta at Yankee Stadium to open the playoffs, then knocked out a record-setting New England Revolution team in penalty kicks to reach its first conference final. A trip to the Philadelphia Union ended with an 88th-minute Magno winner for NYCFC to clinch the date with Portland, one City fans won’t soon forget.

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