Lessons were aplenty for New York City FC during journey to MLS Cup Final

NYCFC Moralez Magno
Dec 5, 2021; Chester, PA, USA; New York City FC midfielder Maximiliano Moralez (center) celebrates after scoring a goal against the Philadelphia Union with forward Talles Magno (left) and midfielder Ismael Tajouri (back) during the second half of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2021 MLS Playoffs at Subaru Park. New York City FC won 2-1.
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

New York City FC manager Ronny Deila has been on the touchline for his fair share of big matches. After all, the Norwegian coach had won two Scottish Premiership titles with legendary side, Celtic, and steered them through Champions League and Europa League matches.

But Deila’s status in the United States just took a massive step in just his second year in MLS as his NYCFC side won the Eastern Conference crown over Philadelphia Union, 2-1, on Sunday to clinch the club’s first-ever trip to the MLS Cup Final.

Deila’s fingerprints were all over the victory, which was expected after 11 Union players were unable to suit up due to COVID-19. But three second-half substitutions sparked an NYCFC comeback that was needed when Philadelphia shockingly took a lead in the 63rd minute through an own-goal from defender Alexander Callens.

After Maxi Moralez’s equalizer just 90 seconds later, one of Deila’s substitutions in Talles Magno — a promising Brazilian star in the making — slotted home the game-winner to restore order within a memorable conference final. 

“Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do and dig in there and take your chances when you get it,” Deila said. “The way the team kept calm even though we weren’t playing the way we wanted was really, really good.”

That’s an important lesson for this team moving forward as they head to Portland to face the Timbers in the MLS Cup Final on Saturday afternoon (3 p.m. ET).

“The mental thing as well when you’re winning a big game like that, the fact that we’re almost winning a cup final, that’s a thing we have to learn,” Deila said. “This is a good learning experience for us because we play again on Saturday and we have to be fresher than we were.

“Going to Portland, a tough place, they’ve been in the final before, we haven’t.”

Now in its seventh season of existence, NYCFC finally got over a sizable hump that they were unable to do in five previous and consecutive trips to the MLS Cup Playoffs: get to a final. And that was with teams that featured legends ranging from Frank Lampard to Andrea Pirlo, to David Villa.

“This club has won a lot of football games, they’ve been very successful coming to the playoffs six times in a row,” Deila said. “We haven’t dealt with the pressure before and now we’re starting to do that. The learning through the whole club to win games and to learn how to win them under pressure is something you have to learn over time.

“That club is doing that at a young age… We brought the first trophy home to the club and I’m sure it won’t be the last. As I said to the boys, enjoy it because this is a big, big thing.”

Despite heading to the Pacific Northwest as the visitors in the MLS Cup Final, NYCFC opened up as slight favorites to defeat Portland.

“It’s tough to win in the US. Everybody has the same opportunity and there’s 28 teams,” Deila said. “It’s been just amazing, but the biggest one is coming on Saturday. We’ll do everything we can to get more energy to us before the game and that we’re going to get everything out because then we know we can beat anybody.”