We did it.
It was nerve-wracking at times, as the fans attending the RNY FC contest at Monroe Community College watched the match unfold before their eyes, and simultaneously watched their phones for updates on the other MLS NEXT Pro Eastern Conference games.
But it worked out in the end.
No, there was no Northeast Division title, but Rochester finished fourth in the Eastern Conference, which means there is a shot at an even bigger trophy: the league title.
RNY FC drew 2-2 with NYCFC II Sunday at home. While the team lost a chance at an extra point after a 5-3 defeat in penalties, the bigger prize was gained: a trip to Columbus to take on the Eatern Conference champion Crew II in the first round of the playoffs Saturday.
When John Denis gave the visitors a 2-1 lead in the 68th minute, after Pedro Dolabella had tied it up for Rochester, the picture was looking a little bleak. The Philadelphia Union II, who eventually finished third, were cruising, while Inter Miami CF II was locked in a tight contest with the Chicago Fire II.
But mere minutes after Denis’ penalty was scored, Gibran Rayo, the man with so many big goals all season for RNY FC, converted from the spot to make it 2-2, and ease the tension somewhat.
There was no comeback from Miami, and while Toronto scored in the 86th and 90th minute to steal the division title from Rochester in dramatic fashion, RNY FC held on for the draw to book its place in the postseason.
It drew a line under a chaotic final few months for Rochester: the team was unbeaten in five (4-0-1) from June 18 to July 21, then went winless (0-4-1) from July 22 to August 26, which was the low point of the campaign. But RNY FC rebounded to end its season unbeaten in its final four matches (3-0-1), which ultimately proved to be the difference in a table that saw second through fourth place decided by a point, and second through sixth by just five points.
There are so many times you can look back and think, this is where it changed, or this was a pivotal result, or these extra points in penalties were very big.
At the end of the day, though, the only thing that matters is this: after 24 league matches, RNY FC is one of the top four teams in the Eastern Conference, and are now three wins–in regulation or penalties–away from a title.
Yes, they have to face Columbus, which ripped through the league with the most points (16-3-5, 55 points) of any of the 21 clubs. But RNY FC picked up five points out of six against the Crew II (4-0 win in Columbus, 0-0 draw in Rochester) and will go in with no fear.
Can Rochester win a title?
Why not? They are still playing, and we still Believe Impossible.
Columbus Crew vs. RNY FC, Saturday, Sept. 24, 3 p.m. EDT (8 p.m. UK time), Historic Crew Stadium