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First leg looms large for NYCFC following playoff exit

Scoring twice, recording a clean sheet, dominating possession and posting 16 shots sounds like a good day at the office for any team. Yet, for New York City FC, it wasn’t enough.

A 2-0 victory over the Columbus Crew at Yankee Stadium was met with disappointment, as it was not enough to overcome the 4-1 loss suffered days earlier in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

New York City had “everything except the third goal,” midfielder Alexander Ring said following the team’s elimination from the playoffs. The Crew were “very lucky today,” he added.

“We messed up in the first leg.”

The first meeting in the conference semifinals five days earlier weighed heavily on the minds of many at Yankee Stadium.

“It just wasn’t a great game,” goalkeeper Sean Johnson said. “The second half in general was probably one of our worst halves as a team collectively in the year.”

Conceding four times in a match always attracts a lot of attention to and criticism of a goalkeeper, and though he kept a clean sheet on Sunday, Johnson understood his role in Tuesday’s result.

“I’m just taking that responsibility,” Johnson said. “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.”

Even though the second leg was a massive improvement for NYCFC compared to the first, it was not perfect. They “missed a couple of things,” as Ring put it, and it cost them.

Head coach Patrick Vieira also noted that his side could not finish the job.

“I felt like there was a space there to score the third goal,” the Frenchman said, “and I’m upset, frustrated, and disappointed.”

Still, he and his players remained upbeat. Vieira had no regrets over his side’s approach after going a few goals down in Columbus, when they continued to push for their own goals and left their defense vulnerable, now having the hindsight to see one goal was all his side needed to advance. ”

I would do it again,” the coach said. “This is part of our identity. This is part of our philosophy. This is who we are. We want to play. We [take] risks.”

“It was difficult for me to ask more from the team or the players because they gave everything they had,” Vieira added, “and I’m really proud of the way they played and the way they fought.”

Johnson echoed his coach.

“There was not a single person in this locker room who looked at a 3-0 result and thought it was out of reach,” the goalkeeper said. “I thought from the first whistle every person on the field gave everything they had.”

Ring also complimented his side, saying, “I would take my chances with this team against anyone and I think that today, we showed up.”

Though they ended the season with a strong performance, heading into the offseason without lifting MLS Cup is always a difficult ask. Ring said it would probably take him two weeks to stop thinking about this year and begin thinking about the next. As he said, the outcome is “a tough one to chew on”.

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