MLS review: NYCFC win the MLS Cup after dramatic penalty shootout

The MLS season reached a dramatic climax on Saturday, when Portland Timbers scored a late equaliser before going on to lose in a penalty shootout to eventual winners, New York City FC.

Saturday's MLS Cup final rounded off the season in fitting style, with the game decided by a dramatic penalty shootout. Ronny Deila's side eventually claimed victory despite Portland Timbers' home advantage.

New York City FC took the lead in the first half through Valentin Castellanos, and looked to have won it before the Timbers equalised in the 94th minute through Felipe Mora.

Despite carrying momentum into the shootout, the Timbers saw their first two saved by Sean Johnson, and despite Steve Clark saving one of his own against Alfredo Morales, the final three Pigeons converted to win 4-2.

It was Alex Callens who eventually scored the winning penalty, allowing NYCFC to celebrate their first title in the Oregon rain.

Castellanos puts NYCFC ahead

Valentin Castellanos, NYCFC, MLS, Dec2021

After missing the Eastern Conference Final due to a red card in the previous game, Golden Boot winner Taty Castellanos left his mark on the field Saturday. After controlling possession for most of the first half, it was a free kick four minutes from the break that proved to be the difference.

Maxi Moralez sent in a perfect cross and Castellanos got his head to the ball, sending it off Clark and across the line. The goal kept NYCFC on the front foot and they nearly doubled their lead with another free kick, only for Clark to deny Moralez.

Portland's last-gasp equaliser

Having gone a goal down in the first half, Portland struggled to get back into things after the break, with Callens and Maxime Chanot proving to be a tough duo to break down. Diego Valeri and Christian Pardes came on late to try and rescue things, and they did just that. After entering the pitch in the 88th minute, Valeri in particular made an immediate impact.

Entering the fourth minute of stoppage time, the Timbers managed to create an opening, and while Johnson made the initial save, the ball fell to a wide-open Felipe Mora who made no mistake. It turned out to be the final kick of regulation time, but it failed to swing momentum in favour of Portland.

Penalty heroics

MLS, Sean Johnson was named the MLS Cup final MVP after saving two penalties

Neither team managed to score a winner in extra time, with both sides preferring to starve the other of chances. That meant the game went to a shootout, and left over 25,000 fans biting their nails at Providence Park.

Castellanos went first for NYCFC and scored to put the Pigeons on top, before Johnson saved Mora's low shot to the left and Clark responded by saving Alfredo Morales' strike. Johnson then denied Valeri with a full-extension save, allowing Moralez to give NYCFC a 2-0 lead.

Sebastian Moreno finally got the Timbers on the board but teenager Talles Bacelar Martins kept the lead for NYCFC as his shot snuck under a diving Clark. Parades scored for Portland to make it 3-2 but Callens calmly and clinically slotted home to win the title.

For his shootout heroics, Johnson was named MVP of the match. He also had four saves on the day as Portland outshot NYCFC 19-13. The Pigeons had more shots on goal at 7-5, though, meaning Clark had to make six saves.

Deila Delivers

Ronny Deila, NYCFC manager

Despite being underdogs for their last three games, NYCFC overcame the odds to win the Cup, and Norwegian manager Ronny Deila celebrated by doing pushups on the field while surrounded by his squad. En route to the final, New York beat New England on the road, beat No.2 seed Philadelphia and have now beaten the Timbers at their own stomping ground.

Following his MLS Cup win, Deila can now add it to his trophy cabinet which also boasts two Scottish Premiership titles and a Scottish Cup from his time with Celtic. Additionally, he has won the Norwegian Cup and the Tippeligaen during his time at Stromsgodset.

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