New York City FC made history on Saturday after defeating the Portland Timbers 4-2 on penalties to lift their first ever Major League Soccer Cup.
A first-half goal by Golden Boot winner Taty Castellanos earned the visiting side the lead before Felipe Mora scored the equalizer in the 94th minute to send the game into overtime. After 120+ minutes of play, their fate was decided by penalties.
It was the second time NYCFC faced penalties during the 2021 postseason after defeating the New England Revolution 5-3 to reach the conference semifinal.
But Goalkeeper Sean Johnson was prepared.
“I think in those moments, you kinda have to live in the moment. You never know what, what emotions, what situation will pop up. But ultimately, it’s just about being present,” Johnson admitted exclusively to 90min on Thursday before the match.
“And you know, more so than anything, you look at that PK shootout in New England, and our players stepped up in a very confident way and converted. I think that’s a very good example of every player stepping up at different points in the season and/or different points of the games in playoffs because everybody’s had a part to play in it. And that’s kind of the beauty of, of our team and the family that we have.”
Johnson rose up to the occasion on Saturday, stunning fans after saving Felipe Mora’s penalty to gain the advantage. Timbers player Diego Valeri then stepped up to the spot, sending the ball low for the NYCFC captain to once again save.
Johnson became the MLS Cup hero. As New York City FC celebrated, the praise started pouring in for Johnson.
“Our whole team just feels so confident going into shootouts,” James Sands said. “We have been in that and he’s always going to make the play, he’s always going to a big save. In big moments he’s just clutch. We felt confident going into the penalties. Sean’s a big reason why we made it this far in the season.”
Head coach Ronny Deila added: “For me, he’s the big, big winner. He wins us this game in the end. The way he speaks to the team, the way he goes in front every day in training and brings people together and also when the big moments are coming, how he stands out time after time, he’s a winner, a real winner and a leader. He’s a captain the whole club should be really proud of.”
For the first time ever New York City celebrated the league trophy, a moment Johnson described as “unbelievable”.
“It feels unbelievable to be able to call ourselves champions,” Johnson said after the match. This is what we live for, these moments. To be the MVP of the [MLS Cup Final], it means the whole world, but it means so much more to lift a cup for this club.”