(Columbus midfielder Hector Jimenez defends against NYCFC forward Jack Harrison – USA Today Sports)
New York City Football Club and the Red Bulls came up one goal short of advancing in their Eastern Conference Semifinal second legs on Sunday.
NYCFC lost to Columbus 4-1 last Tuesday night, and they won on Sunday at Yankee Stadium 2-0. Columbus won on aggregate 4-3.
The Red Bulls lost 2-1 to Toronto FC last Monday at home, and won 1-0 on Sunday in Toronto to even the aggregate at 2-2. Toronto moves on by virtue of the road goal rule, as they had two road goals in the first leg. Bradley Wright-Phillips scored the Red Bulls’ goal on Sunday in the 53rd minute.
NYCFC came out firing, and dominated play in the Columbus zone.
In the 16th minute, Josh Williams took down Rodney Wallace in the box, and NYCFC was awarded a penalty kick.
David Villa took it, and buried it with a kick to the right-center side of the net to make it 1-0.
Columbus had a big chance in the 29th minute, when Ola Kamara received a long ball and was in alone. NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson kicked it away with his right leg.
In the second half, 53rd minute, NYCFC’s Andraz Struna came down the right side, and fired a shot in the box. It ricocheted off the shin of a Columbus defender and into the net to make it 2-0 NYCFC. Most importantly, it gave them 40 minutes to get the tying goal in this one and the winning one in aggregate, as they lost 4-1 in Columbus last Tuesday and had the tie-breaking road goal.
In the 66th minute, NYCFC forward Jack Harrison came in down the right side from the center line and got off a solid chance, but Columbus goakeeper Zack Steffen.
In the 70th minute, Rodney Wallace had a perfect look and rung one off the left post.
Andrea Pirlo, in what is his last game with NYCFC and most likely final appearance ever, came on in the 90th minute. Pirlo played in just 15 games this season, with no goals and two assists, so this was a rather surprising move.
NYCFC Head Coach Patrick Vieira said of what Pirlo has meant to the team over the past few years, “I think he has meant a lot to this football club. He’s been a professional. He’s been a really good example for the young players that we have on our team and if they conduct themselves like Andrea, I think they will have a good career.”
Pirlo had a couple chances to drop a long pass into the box in extra time, and both times, they overshot the end line, resulting in a free kick for the Columbus goalkeeper Steffen.
Vieira was critical of the referees letting Steffen take as much time as he needed making those kicks, basically stalling to kill of the five minutes of extra time. The fact there was no apparent reason for so long an extra time was not addressed by Vieira.
The game ended with a Steffen free kick, and as it came down in the center of the field, the whistle blew and the celebration was on for Columbus.
NYCFC Head Coach Patrick Vieira said of whether he is happy with his team’s effort, “Yeah, I think when I look at the game, it was difficult for me to ask more from the team or the players because they gave everything they had, and I’m really proud of the way they played and the way they fought.”
On what he felt after the game, Vieira said, “Of course I am disappointed that we are not going to the East Finals. I felt like there was a space there to score the third goal, and I’m upset, frustrated, and disappointed.”
NYCFC Goalkeeper Sean Johnson said of the team’s effort, “The effort did not come short at all. I think it was one of our best performances of the season, we were unlucky not to score the third. We all believed it was possible, I think you got that sense from the start of the game that we all came out of the gates blazing and it is really disappointing to come on the short end of it.”
On how he felt during his first season with NYCFC, Johnson said, “It has been a welcoming one for me… tremendous from the organization, from the fans, everybody has been tremendous in welcoming me with open arms and I think it has been a good year. As a team and obviously we have high expectations of ourselves and we came up a little bit short but there are a lot of positives we can take away and this is a special group, we firmly believe that… the sky’s the limit and we will get a piece of it so we look forward to it.”
Johnson said of the overall performance from the team in the two games against Columbus, “We could have come into this game in two ways. With the belief that we could have gotten the job done or just accept the fact that it was 4-1 and just laid down. There was not a single person in this locker room who looked at a 3-0 result and thought it was out of reach. I thought from the first whistle every person on the field gave everything they had so if you want to look in retrospect it was tough. The stoppage time goal, the goal I gave up for the third. The second half in general was probably one of our worst halves as a team collectively in the year and to bounce back today the way we did is nothing shorter than incredible from everybody in this group and it shows our true character and what our relationships mean to each other on and out the field.”
On the lessons he learned from the playoffs, Johnson said, “Yeah I think the lessons we learned are important. Obviously the first leg… there were certain point of the match that were important for us. No matter if they scored on us 1-0, whether we had 11 man on the field, 10 man on the field we each had to recognize that. I think it just wasn’t a great game. From myself I’m just taking that responsibility I can’t really look at anybody else before I look at myself and just what could I’ve done to help the team better, what could I’ve done to put us in a better position. Looking at that, that’s a question I can look at and say obviously the second game of the leg was a good win, it was exciting, we created chances but it has to be better in the first leg, I am totally sure of that. I have talked to the guys about it and we will be better next year. We guarantee this won’t happen again next year.”