By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Nov 6, 2017) US Soccer Players – NYCFC has come a long way. A team that struggled under the popularity and modest success of its rival the Red Bulls in recent years, New York City FC has used its success on the field over the past seven months to market itself to fans across the city. NYCFC also knows that just making the playoffs isn't going to cut it anymore.
That is why elimination Sunday night in the MLS Cup Playoffs at the hands of Columbus Crew is going to be an issue. After the opening leg, it was never going to be easy. NYCFC was down 4-1, needing to make history in overcoming that deficit at home. Despite what appeared to be an insurmountable lead, NYCFC appeared to be exactly the type of team that could have overcome such an obstacle. They almost did it.
Since taking the field in 2015, NYCFC has steadily improved with each passing season. As other expansion sides have learned, succeeding in MLS is not easy. The team finished the regular season this Fall with a best-ever record of 16-9-9. That was good enough for second overall in the Eastern Conference. That gave NYCFC momentum for a playoff run.
In last season’s playoffs, NYCFC was on the receiving end of a 5-0 rout at Yankee Stadium versus Toronto FC after a 2-0 loss in Canada during the playoffs. This season, it was a loss in the first leg that doomed Patrick Vieira’s men. While David Villa gets lots of praise for his goals and leadership and Vieira for his coaching abilities, this is a team that needs to improve in many areas. The backline needs even more reinforcement, still conceding too many goals in key matches. They’ll also need to figure out what to do regarding the Designated Player slot left open by the retirement of former Italian international Andrea Pirlo.
"I think, when you look at the game, it was difficult for me to ask more about the team and about my players because they gave everything they had tonight,” Vieira said after the match. “I’m really proud about the way that they played and they fought tonight.”
Pride alone doesn’t win trophies. Every playoff elimination brings with it self-reflection and the need to look back on what the team did and didn’t accomplish this past season. Vieira tried to put the best positive spin on a year that was once again a disappointment.
“I think, as a club, we are more solid on and off the field than we were last year,” he said. “We improved a lot as a football club. I strongly believe that next year is going to be even better. I believe that we are working well, we are improving on the field. We managed to bring the right players to help us improve. This year, we had 12 new players.”
Vieira added: “Next year we're going to have, of course, less, but the next few players we need to bring need to take us to the next level again so we can compete against the likes of Toronto and the Red Bulls, because I believe that the East will be stronger and stronger.”
Hours earlier in Canada, Toronto knocked out the Red Bulls in what turned out to be a feisty second-leg encounter at BMO Field. That means another season without a trophy for New York, compounded by their US Open Cup final loss earlier this year against Sporting Kansas City.
However, the Red Bulls, like NYCFC, didn’t leave the postseason without putting up a fight. After losing 2-1 at home last week, the Red Bulls came on strong in the return match – losing to Toronto 1-0 – but it wasn’t enough in the end.
“We did a lot of little things to try and combat (Toronto’s) conservative tactics and for the most part I thought that a lot of what we did was successful,” Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch told reporters after the match. “We just weren’t able to capitalize enough.”
Both Columbus and Toronto have their own issues in the Eastern Conference Finals. It will be a matchup of two storylines when the sides meet on Nov. 21 in the opening leg. The Crew hoping its fairytale run keeps the team in Columbus versus a Toronto side that won the Supporters’ Shield this season and lost in the MLS Cup Final last year.
The other storyline this season is New York’s futility. Both NYCFC and the Red Bulls have failed to come up with the winning formula. The capital of the world will need to wait another year before either fan base – blue or red – can hope its club can lift MLS Cup. NYCFC clearly had the better season this year. None of that matters once you get bounced from the postseason.
Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He is also the author of A History of the World Cup: 1930-2014. Find him on Twitter:http://twitter.com/ClementeLisi.
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