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NYCFC celebrates its MLS title with mayor, fans at City Hall

NYCFC captain Sean Johnson (center) lifts the Philip

NYCFC captain Sean Johnson (center) lifts the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy alongside teammates during a ceremony for the 2021 MLS Cup champions on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021. Credit: NYCFC / Katie Cahalin

Nineteen-year-old Tayvon Gray gazed in awe from the confetti-covered steps of City Hall on Tuesday. The New York City FC defender had just finished nearly a half-hour of autographs and selfies with fans still clinging to the glory of their club’s first championship celebration.

Bronx-born Gray was right there with them.

"Hey, we’re champions, it’s unreal," Gray laughed. "I knew they were going to come out, we just won, but I didn’t know what it was going to be like though."

Gray and his teammates were given keys to the city and honored by Mayor Bill de Blasio as part of a victory ceremony for the club’s 2021 MLS Cup title in front of a limited-capacity crowd of around 1,000 supporters at City Hall Park. NYCFC topped the Portland Timbers in a shootout to claim the trophy Saturday.

The mood was festive as New Yorkers cheered the city’s first professional champion since 2012 and its first MLS Cup in the league’s 26 seasons. Still, City diehards made clear an ongoing demand, interrupting a speech by CEO Brad Sims with chants of, "We want a stadium!" Sims later promised the club will build fans a ground they deserve, to which an incredulous crowd replied with a handful of boos.

Sims told Newsday the club, which plays at Yankee Stadium, believes it has the local support to build a stadium, and a championship can only help that process.

"This just elevates it and also drives more urgency," Sims said. "I think it elevates the issue that everyone knows that [a stadium] is yet another opportunity to really take this thing to the next level and be able to allow us to maximize our potential. We're extremely confident that we're going to make it happen, and we're going to make it happen soon."

He also explained why the club picked a ticketed event to celebrate instead of a traditional ticker-tape parade. Sims cited the need to make decisions weeks ahead of a potential title and being unable to anticipate December weather or ongoing COVID-19 concerns. It also gave the club a chance to bring its most ardent supporters together in a unique, personal setting.

"Especially the core fans who have been with us from the very beginning," Sims said. "We knew that if we did a really intimate event like this that those people, there's a group of these fans that share the blood, sweat and tears that the players and the staff and the front office and everyone else has to. So, to be able to do an intimate event here we thought was the right call."

 

The day proved surreal for Gray, who battled through a leg injury to stay on the field throughout the playoffs.

"I'd give it all for this feeling right here, without a doubt," Gray said. "I wouldn't think twice. I'd do it all again."

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