New York City FC handed Santos de Guápiles a convincing 4-0 defeat in the second leg of the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16, played at “home” in the enviably well-designed Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles. NYCFC advances to the quarterfinals with an emphatic aggregate goal tally of 6-0.
NYCFC put was a stronger performance than the one we witnessed last week, when a disorganized squad defeated Santos 2-0 in San José, Costa Rica. In that match, City never fully controlled a game that they dominated on paper. Yesterday, NYCFC commanded both the stat sheet and the run of play, outshining a Santos squad that might have been stronger than the one fielded in Costa Rica but that never posed more than a gentle threat.
The NYCFC smothered the Santos attack, which logged just three shots, and not a single shot on goal. It wasn’t even close.
NYCFC will next play Guatemalan side Comunicaciones FC in March. (The dates will be announced later.) Comunicaciones defeated Colorado Rapids last night on penalty kicks after holding the Rapids to one goal despite being down a man for most of the game.
Goals from players we least expect to score goals
Defensive midfielder Alfredo Morales scored in the 32nd minute, clinically nodding in a Maxi Moralez corner for his first goal since joining NYCFC last year. Then center back Maxime Chanot found the back of the net four minutes later, scoring his first goal since 2020.
That wasn’t in the script. NYCFC was fielding the impressive attacking triangle of Taty Castellanos, Talles Magno, and Thiago, and the barrage of goals was supposed to come from them. If there was to be a barrage: Santos striker and Jamaica international Javon East missed the first game but was back in the lineup, along with another six players who weren’t allowed to play in the first game for various reasons. This was meant to be a challenge. Instead, the game was sealed by a Chanot strike that even he seemed to find surprising.
Goals from a player we expect to score goals
Those two goals allowed NYCFC to relax. It also allowed manager Ronny Deila to rest several starters and give minutes to squad players who will likely be called on to step up this year if the team makes deep runs in the CONCACAF Champions League and the MLS Cup playoffs: Off went Alexander Callens, Tayvon Gray, and Malte Amundsen, on came Vuk Latinovich, Andres Jasson, and Chris Gloster.
Just when the match looked like it was going ease into a game of keep-away, Talles Magno scored a brace. He first sliced home a cross from Thiago side the box in the 80th minute, then he tucked the ball between the legs of a defender and around the goalkeeper in the 86th minute. As the kids like to say, boom.
This was supposed to happen. Soon affter Talles Magno joined NYCFC last May as a Young Designated Player, it became clear that 2021 was to be a warm-up for the highly-regarded player who was then just an 18-year-old: He was given time to get acclimated to the technical play of NYCFC, and the physical play of MLS. The expectations for 2022 are different, when he is anticipated to take his place as one of the team’s most important players. So far, so good.
A pre-season that counts
The handful of diehard NYCFC supporters who made the trip to Los Angeles, and who essentially had Banc of California Stadium to themselves, have to be pleased with the result. Not only did City notch a decisive win, the team made significant improvements over last week’s performance. NYCFC looked more comfortable in the back, and more composed in the middle.
Not to be dismissive of the CONCACAF Champions League, which is easily one of the five best Champions Leagues in the world, these two games turned into something like pre-season matchups that counted. Head coach Ronny Deila could play his starters, and his reserves, and tinker with the lineups. Sean Johnson added two shutouts to his collection. The team could make mistakes then work to fix them, and log 180 minutes of playing competitive soccer together.
The offseason rust isn’t totally gone, but you can now see some of the shine that was on NYCFC last December. Not a bad way to roll into the 2022 MLS regular season.