FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — it wasn’t the way Sean Johnson envisioned it, but the realization of what was accomplished didn’t make it any less sweet.
Disappointed NYCFC players quickly exited the field for the locker room, knowing a Philadelphia Union loss or tie in Columbus would still yield the result they wanted. Players quietly sat at their stalls, with phones in hand, each watching the stream of the match from Columbus.
The fact there was a 30-minute weather delay at MAPFRE Stadium before the start of the second half made the wait even tougher.
But then came Youness Mokhtatr’s goal that broke the stalemate, and Pedro Santos’ subsequent insurance tally four minutes later.
Now, Johnson felt, was the time to take a shower.
“I saw the one-nil, saw the second goal right after that. And then took a shower after, came back glued to the phone again,” Johnson said. “I couldn’t really take a break until I knew what the score was going to be.”
Still, as the final minutes ticked down, it was a subdued locker room with a competitive group still upset over their first loss since August 11.
But then Dome Torrent clapped his hands and urged his team on.
“Cmon boys, celebrate,” he said. “You’ve earned it.”
His message to the media outside the locker room, well before the result at MAPFRE Stadium was official, was similar.
“If Columbus is able to win the game or draw the game, we celebrate it because we deserve it,” Torrent said. “We play eight months, we work all together nine months very, very hard in the facilities. I think our players, our club deserves to finish in the first position.”
When the final whistle blew in Columbus, the celebration was on in Foxborough. It was somewhat muted at first, but grew as each moment passed. There were hugs amongst the players and staff, rhythmic slapping of the metal barriers at each stall and, finally collective singing amongst the group.
“I think all the emotion just came out,” Johnson said. “It was a special moment. It’s the first time we’ve achieved something as a club, and we have a lot more to go. But that’s just a taste of what it feels like to win something and to be to be victorious over a length of months.”
It ended with a team picture with a chant of “four days off,” directed at Torrent and his staff.
First objective ✅ #NYCFC
— New York City FC (@NYCFC) September 30, 2019
“It’s great. I think with the way the season started, a lot of doubters and we just kept plugging away,” Sebastien Ibeagha said. “I think that’s the biggest thing. We kept plugging away all year long. We were pretty streaky here and there, but it ended exactly the way we wanted it to.”
Johnson brought the tone back to earth a bit. He said he didn’t believe in days off and while the club should celebrate this moment, he knows the mentality will shift whenever it is they return to training.
“We will enjoy this for the next day or two. And I guarantee you once we step back on the pitch that the tone will be set for the playoffs,” Johnson said. “It might be a couple of weeks away, It doesn’t matter. For myself, other leaders of the group, I know that the tone is going to be set as soon as we get back in.”