New York City FC head coach Ronny Deila has talked about the importance of the club finally getting over their Playoff hump and winning a trophy.
This is the Pigeons' seventh season in Major League Soccer and the sixth in a row they've reached the Playoffs.
But it's the first time they've managed to go all the way to MLS Cup, beating Atlanta United, New England Revolution, and Philadelphia Union to set up a date with the Portland Timbers on Saturday. There's also the small matter of lifting the Eastern Conference title on Sunday - not the biggest trophy by any means, but a marker of NYCFC's progress and a potential catalyst for more.
“This Club has been successful coming to the Playoffs six times in a row. We haven't dealt with the pressure before and now we’re starting to do that," Deila told reporters after Sunday's 2-1 comeback win over the Union.
"I think the learning for the whole club to win football games and how to deal with that and how to win them when the pressure is on is something you have to learn over time and this club has gone through a lot already at a young age and today we have for a third time had success and we bring for the first time a trophy to the club and I’m sure it’s not going to be the last."
Though the job is nowhere near done, Deila has insisted his players enjoy this moment, with the parity of MLS meaning trophies can often be rare and title-winning dynasties even rarer.
"As I said to the boys, enjoy it because it's a big big thing, the whole club has to enjoy it, the supporters, everybody because here in the U.S. it's hard to win," he added. "Everybody has the same opportunity and it's 28 teams, it's crazy, so what we have done so far has been just amazing."
Judging by the reaction of the NYCFC players - both when they lifted the trophy and in their post-match media duties - there will be no problems savoring this moment.
“I think it means everything for the club," said team captain and goalkeeper Sean Johnson.
"From the start, coming to this club, being here for five years, knowing how much it means, how much support we have from our supporters, organization, internally, I think there has been an unbelievable commitment to success.
"I think it’s taken a little bit but guys have been committed to making sure we achieve something, and this is the first step for us but we know the more important one is Saturday and looking forward to going out there and giving everything and hopefully lifting an MLS Cup.”
NYCFC's first-ever homegrown player, James Sands is better-placed than most to know what this win means to the club. The USMNT international recalled previous Playoff heartbreaks and the contrasting emotions to those defeats.
“It’s such an unbelievable feeling," said Sands. "I’ve seen this team have such a tough go in the Playoffs. I remember losing to Columbus, losing to Toronto, losing to Orlando and all such heartbreaking games that finally to get over that hurdle means a lot to everyone, but especially the guys who have been on the team a couple years and have gone through that. Then to have academy kids making an impact is even more special.”
Just as they were in the Eastern Conference semi-final against the Revs, NYCFC will be underdogs in Portland, especially with the famous atmosphere and unique surroundings of Providence Park.
The Timbers have home advantage and big-game experience. But Deila doesn't care. Right now, he's riding a wave of positivity and confidence - he's sure his side can 'beat anybody'.
"Portland is a tough place," he said. "They have been in a final before, we haven't but we will do everything to get more energy into us before the game and get everything out because then we know we can beat anybody.”