New York City FC started strong, but avoided a humiliating Concacaf Champions League exit in Guatemala on Tuesday night to book its place into the tournament’s semifinals.
Ronny Deila’s side advanced into the final four despite losing 4-2 on the night against Comunicaciones FC. NYCFC eliminated the Guatemalan hosts on the away goal tiebreaker after the sides played out a 5-5 aggregate scoreline through 180 minutes of action.
Valentin Castellanos kicked off the scoring for NYCFC in the 31st minute, delivering a sensational free kick finish from long-range. The Argentine’s right-footed shot snuck into the bottom-right corner, giving the visitors an early advantage.
Andres Lezcano drew Comunicaciones level just before halftime, beating Sean Johnson with a right-footed strike from outside of the box. The U.S. men’s national team goalkeeper made a pair of key saves earlier in the half, but was unable to keep Lezcano’s effort out.
NYCFC regained its advantage in the 53rd minute with Castellanos this time playing distributor in the final third. After Nicolas Acevedo drew a free kick on the right wing, Castellanos’ cross into the box was headed home by Talles Magno for a 2-1 NYCFC lead.
Comunicaciones did not lie down though, swinging momentum in its favor with a pair of goals in a four-minute span. Nicolas Samayoa’s tap-in finish in the 69th minute tied things up at 2-2 before Lynner Garcia propelled the hosts into the lead at 3-2.
Alexander Larin’s cross from the left wing was tapped home by Garcia, giving the home fans plenty to be excited about.
Comunicaciones continued to pile on the pressure late in the match and the hosts moved even closer to a shocking result at home. Jose Contreas’ long-range strike in the 89th minute left Johnson flatfooted and tied the agrgegate score at 5-5.
NYCFC would hang on though and advance due to the away-goals tiebreaker, becoming the first MLS club to clinch its spot in the next round. The defending MLS Cup winners return to Yankee Stadium on Saturday to face the Philadelphia Union, hoping for a bounce-back result after Tuesday’s defensive struggles.
NYCFC was lucky. Without Castellanos they are mediocre at best. I predicted they would have trouble in this game because they lacked the intensity shown by their opponents. The Castellanos goal was a thing of beauty, worthy of a Messi comparison. Then they brought in the second stringers way too early, thinking they had the game in the bag. If the game had gone on another 10 minutes they probably would have lost because of poor play.