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Johnson the hero as City fell Timbers to win MLS Cup

December 12, 2021

New York City goalkeeper Sean Johnson reacts after one of two penalty shoot-out saves in New York City’s MLS Cup win over Portland

Goalkeeper Sean Johnson was the hero as New York City FC defeated the Portland Timbers in a penalty shoot-out to win the MLS Cup for the first time on Saturday.

City goalkeeper Johnson saved two Portland spot-kicks at a rainswept Providence Park in Portland to set up a 4-2 shootout win for New York.

Johnson’s two early saves handed Alex Callens the chance to drill the winning spot-kick past Portland’s Steve Clark.

“We said before the shoot-out ‘Embrace the moment’,” Johnson said afterwards. “I just wanted to stay present and do what I could to help the team.

“We stepped up in a big way. I was able to save a couple and the boys buried the rest.”

New York’s Norwegian manager Ronny Deila — who later upheld a promise to strip to his underwear to the delight of players and traveling fans — paid tribute to his team’s never-say-die approach.

“It was a crazy game,” the former Celtic manager said. 

“We had full control of the game and I thought we were going to win it in 90 minutes, and they scored. We were broken.

“But we’ve been down so many times this year. This group of players are winners. It was just a roller coaster game.”

Major League Soccer’s championship game had gone to penalties after finishing 1-1 after extra time.

Earlier, Portland grabbed a controversial equalizer in the final seconds of the final minute of stoppage time to extend the contest into extra-time.

New York City looked to be just seconds away from their first MLS championship after Valentin Castellanos’s 41st-minute header gave them a deserved lead.

But with the seconds ticking down, Portland poured forward in search of an equalizer.

Having controlled the contest for long periods, nerves appeared to get the better of City, who failed to clear their lines properly as the Timbers pressed.

Finally, the pressure told when a speculative header into the area from Colombian forward Yimmi Chara caused panic in the City defence.

Jaroslaw Niezgoda’s shot was blocked by City defender Callens but only into the path of striker Felipe Mora, who slammed his finish into the net past Johnson.

City’s players protested furiously as defender Maxim Chanot appeared to have been fouled in the build-up by Portland’s Larrys Mabiala, but the goal stood.

Earlier, New York City had dominated a scrappy game, controlling possession for long periods without seriously testing  Clark in the Portland goal.

Portland were similarly ineffective, struggling to create anything in the way of a goalscoring opportunity as they attempted to disrupt City’s slick passing early on.

The breakthrough for City came shortly before half-time, when Timbers defender Claudio Bravo upended City fullback Tayvon Gray wide on the right.

Argentinian veteran Maxi Moralez swung in a pinpoint free kick to find unmarked compatriot Castellanos on the edge of the six-yard area. 

The City striker’s header was low and hard, but Clark was slow to react and the ball squirted off the greasy surface into the Timbers net.

In the ensuing goal celebrations, City winger Jesus Medina was struck by a beer can thrown from the stands, sending the Paraguayan collapsing to the turf clutching his face.

With Portland offering little in the way of a goal threat, City started the second half hunting for the second goal to put the game beyond doubt.

Moralez hit the crossbar from a free-kick on 50 minutes, and both Santiago Rodriguez and Medina drew saves from Clark early in the second half.

But City were unable to extend their lead and paid the price for some nervy defending when Mora pounced in stoppage time.

Portland looked the likelier team to win it in extra time, and Paraguayan substitute Cristhian Paredes was almost the hero when his curling shot was parried away by the diving Johnson in the 112th minute.

But neither side went was able to grab a winner to set up the shoot-out.

Portland were immediately put on the back foot when Johnson saved from Mora and Diego Valeri to leave New York in control.

That left Callens with the chance to seal victory, and the Peruvian defender stepped up to ram home the winner. 

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