Villa had already score two goals on the afternoon, and was about to send Citi Field ablaze by completing the hat trick and pushing the club to a 3-2 victory, and in effect, the second seed in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
All Villa needed to do was score this goal.
You could feel the anxiousness flowing throughout the crowd of 20,133 in Queens in a stadium devoid of a lot to cheer about in 2017.
The whistle blew, and Villa boomed the shot left. The problem was that Steffen guessed correctly, popped the ball up with his right hand, and jolted up to secure it with both hands, holding it like a mother cradles her first born, keeping the game knotted at a 2-2 tie.
Minutes later, the game ended in a draw, with NYCFC’s playoff security hanging in the balance. But quickly after, Atlanta United, who had been two points behind the New York club, finished in a 2-2 tie with first place Toronto FC.
The crowd, largely donning club clothes highlighting the trademark NYCFC dark blue-light blue color scheme, roared in approval and relief.
While Villa nearly capped off an amazing day, which saw him score goals number 21 and 22 of the 2017 season, NYCFC managed to secure the second seed in the Eastern Conference with a regular season record of 16-9-9, allowing them to bypass the knockout stage of the league playoffs.
“We are satisfied, we are really pleased,” said head coach Patrick Vieira. “I think finishing here is a really good achievement. I think it just shows how strong the Eastern Conference was. Today was the perfect example.”
NYCFC has only been around since 2015, but earned a trip to the conference semifinals last year after also finishing second in the loaded MLS Eastern Conference. This time around, the club has another year of experience, along with good health all-around, which Vieira spoke to afterward.
“I think the most important thing for me and the coaching staff is to keep the players concentrated, focused, and keep them under pressure,” he said. “What is good is that we have all the players back now and working well. That’s a massive hand for us for the next game.”
The MLS Knockout round will begin on October 25. The next day, the sixth-seeded New York Red Bulls will face the third-seeded Chicago Fire. NYCFC will play the second lowest seed left over from the knockout stage, so a potential match-up with the Red Bulls could only take place in the conference finals.
Nonetheless, NYCFC will return to action at the end of October.