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NYCFC tops Revolution in penalty kicks to reach club's first Eastern Conference final

New York City FC players celebrate after defeating

New York City FC players celebrate after defeating the New England Revolution in an MLS playoff soccer match Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021, in Foxborough, Mass. Credit: AP/Charles Krupa

New York City FC entered penalty kicks in its Eastern Conference semifinal against the New England Revolution with its Golden Boot winner sent off for a red card and the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year in the opposing net.

What better time to earn the biggest result in club history?

NYCFC buried all five of its penalty kicks against New England keeper Matt Turner, and City captain Sean Johnson stopped an attempt by the Revs' Adam Buksa to win the shootout, 5-3, after finishing 120 minutes tied 2-2 in front of 25,509 fans Tuesday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

New York City eliminated the Supporters' Shield-winner Revolution with the PK victory, moving on to the Eastern Conference final against the Philadelphia Union at 3 p.m. on Sunday at Subaru Park in Chester, Pennsylvania.

 

The conference final berth is a first for the club in its seventh season. It is the first conference final appearance by a New York club since the Red Bulls reached the stage in 2018. A win on Sunday would give NYCFC the area’s first MLS Cup final appearance since the Red Bulls’ lone trip to the league championship game in 2008, which they lost to the Columbus Crew.

After a 1-1 finish to regular time, MVP finalist and Golden Boot winner Valentín Castellanos turned around a poor performance with a go-ahead headed goal in the 109th minute, only to receive his second yellow card of the match four minutes later. NYCFC finished the match with 10 men and will be without a suspended Castellanos in the conference final.

Down a man, NYCFC absorbed the New England attack until a 118th-minute first-touch goal by Tajon Buchanan forced penalties. Still, NYCFC maintained composure, getting strong finishes from Alfredo Morales, Thiago Andrade, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, Maxi Moralez and Alexander Callens.

"What we what we said internally was that no matter what happened, we stick together, we keep going and that's it," said Johnson. "It was a classic example of that tonight. Giving up the second goal in extra time and going into the penalty shootout, historically penalty shootouts hadn't been our thing, but we said let's embrace it, let's enjoy it and everybody stepped up in a big way."

Newcomer Santiago Rodriguez had the opener for NYCFC, his first MLS playoff goal. Rodriguez made the cross-field pass to start the move, sliding into the box as the ball moved from Jesús Medina to Tayvon Gray. The Bronx native lifted a pass toward Rodriguez, who launched a quick shot with his first touch from just beside the penalty spot to open the scoring in the third minute.

The lead proved to be short-lived. With a ninth-minute free kick, Revolution midfielder Carles Gil curled a cross into the center of the box, finding Buksa in the air for a header toward the far post, freezing NYCFC keeper Sean Johnson.

Aside from Castellanos’ first yellow card in the 18th minute, NYCFC had much of the better moments for the rest of the half. With New England largely conceding control of the midfield, City maintained much of the possession and recorded six shots, yet entered the break still even at 1-1.

New York City, which scored twice early in the second half of its quarterfinal win over Atlanta United, controlled the action when the game resumed, but couldn’t find the same quality of chances out of the break that produced the key goals last time out. A second score seemed possible during a flurry in the 63rd minute. Medina took advantage of a misplay for big chance, only for a tackle by DeJuan Jones to stop the rush. Moralez hit the post with a shot shortly after, then Rodriguez tested Turner in the 65th minute.

NYCFC lost James Sands to a leg injury in the 82nd minute. Key to New York City’s control of the midfield throughout the match, Sands initially tried to continue, but was replaced by Tony Rocha not long after going down.

City had a few final chances to finish in regulation. 19-year-old Gray skied a chance in the in the 87th minute, while Castellanos played a heavy first touch on a soft lob in the 90th minute, watching the ball bounce out of play with just the keeper to beat.

With little luck early in extra time, NYCFC coach Ronny Deila made his first strategic subs, adding Thiago Andrade and Gudi Thórarinsson for Medina and Malte Amundsen. Eventually, City found a way with Castellanos rising for the header, only to lose their striker on an ill-advised tackle for his second yellow. The undermanned City lost track of Buchanan for the late Revs goal, but kept its cool once penalties rolled around to keep alive the club's quest for it’s first trophy.

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