HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — The New York Cosmos’ home finale was all set to end perfectly on Sunday.
NASL Coach of the Year candidate Giovanni Savarese was about to lead his team to its sixth straight win. Goalkeeper Kyle Reynish was going to record his third consecutive shutout and his sixth of the season. The first-place Cosmos (7-1-4) were within a few minutes of beating seventh-place Edmonton (2-4-6) to clinch the 2013 NASL fall season championship and book a trip to Atlanta for next month’s Soccer Bowl. And the crowd of 5,624 at Hofstra University’s James M. Shuart Stadium was prepared to celebrate Fan Appreciation Day in the best way possible.
There was just one problem.
FC Edmonton wanted New York to keep the champagne on ice for at least another week.
A 90th-minute goal made sure of that, as Edmonton and the Cosmos played to a 1-1 draw, the same way the teams’ earlier meeting ended in Edmonton, on September 1. The tie denied New York its seventh regular season title and just as many appearances in the NASL title game — for now.
Edmonton’s equalizer — just its 10th goal of the fall — came off a set piece from the right corner by defender Lance Laing that squirted through the box, and bounced high enough off of the artificial turf for defender David Proctor to head the ball into the upper part of the net about a dozen minutes after forward Alessandro Noselli scored from close range to put the Cosmos up 1-0.
“I think there was definitely a distraction,” Savarese said of the play, while not giving credence to the idea that perhaps at least mentally, his squad might have thought the game was over too soon. “I wouldn’t say it was because we were winning… we actually mentioned in the locker room that the only time we felt they could be dangerous was on the set pieces and that ended up being how they scored the goal.”
That last idea was proven throughout a sometimes chippy match which featured 34 fouls (21 by the visitors), as Edmonton was badly outshot 22-6 overall, though just 7-5 in shots on goal.
Defender and team captain Carlos Mendes echoed Savarase’s thoughts on Proctor’s goal, saying, “I don’t think we attacked [the ball] well enough and they’re very good at that, like coach said. They live off those set pieces and they attacked the ball well and just beat us to it on that play.”
New York could have survived Proctor’s score had it not barely missed on a few earlier chances.
Midfielder Paulo Mendes sent a shot over the crossbar from inside the box, exactly one minute into the contest. Fifteen minutes later, midfielder Danny Szetela had goalkeeper Lance Parker (six saves) come out to meet him by the corner of the box as Szetela ran down a pass on the right wing. Szetela chipped the ball over Parker toward an empty net, but a shade too high.
In the 29th minute, midfielder Marcos Senna blasted a shot from about 30 yards away, that he would have tucked under the crossbar, if not for a leaping Parker punching the ball over the bar with his right hand.
Reynish (four saves) matched that play in the 64th minute when he tipped a shot by midfielder Robert Garret from 18 yards away, over the crossbar.
Three minutes prior to that shot, Noselli came on for Paulo Mendes and almost paid immediate dividends before later breaking through with the Cosmos’ only goal of the match.
Noselli fired a shot just to the left of the net about a half-minute after taking the field, and only a minute later, he took a pass into the box on the right wing and tried to guide it into the net, but Parker denied him.
Six minutes after that, a quick free kick led to Noselli, again in the box on the right wing, missing a little too high.
And two minutes later, a short pass across the box led to a Noselli bicycle kick that was struck hard, but again, just above the net.
Finally, the fifth time was the charm for Noselli in the 78th minute, when a long header by New York into the box was followed with another shorter header by forward Stefan Dimitrov, to set up Noselli with a two-yard, right-footed tap that ricocheted off of the Parker’s left leg and into the net.
“I’m happy for the goal,” Noselli said. “But it’s not a very good day for me because after the goal, we thought the championship was ours.”
Remaining confident, New York — in its first season after a 29-year hiatus followed a dominant run that produced five NASL championships over the club’s first 14 years from 1971-84 — is still in good shape to return to the league’s premier game against the spring season champion Atlanta Silverbacks (4-4-4 this fall).
“We’re disappointed but we’re still in control,” said Carlos Mendes, who along with his teammates, will have two more opportunities during the regular season to clinch the fall title. The first of those chances will come with a five-point lead over second-place Tampa Bay, on the road, against the last-place San Antonio Scorpions (3-8-1), on Saturday night, October 26.
“We’ll continue to work, and I think the confidence is still positive, and we’ll be ready for San Antonio,” Mendes said.
Taking a pragmatic approach to a tough loss, Savarese admitted, “It feels like we didn’t accomplish our target tonight, because we expected at the end, to get a win,” while adding, “It’s a good situation for us to understand that we need to be aware that to make it the finals, will be very difficult. It was a reminder for us.”
Some added reinforcement should come from the fact that although San Antonio currently dwells in the fall season cellar, New York needed a goal in the 92nd minute to beat the Scorpions at home, 2-1, on August 24. And while that victory started what is now a nine-game unbeaten streak (6-0-3) for the Cosmos, they’re 2-1-2 on the road this fall, despite finishing the regular season unbeaten (5-0-2) at home.
Savarese also acknowledged the notion of facing significantly more pressure in heading to Atlanta for New York’s regular season finale on November 2, should the Cosmos fail to clinch the fall title in San Antonio.
He said there wouldn’t be much of an issue with having to play in Atlanta as fall regular season champions, before turning around to make the same trip a week later in a potential Soccer Bowl matchup.
But should his club falter in San Antonio, Savarese said that playing consecutive weeks in Atlanta, first to reach the league title game, and then in the Soccer Bowl a week later, “would be complicated.”
Yet no matter what route New York has to take, Savarese will keep his team battling as hard as it can to add to the franchise’s glorious history from the 1970s and 1980s.
Addressing the crowd at midfield after Edmonton delayed the Cosmos’ regular season title plans, Savarese thanked the fans for their support and promised them, “We’re going to give one hundred percent to bring the championship back to New York.”
Game information courtesy of the New York Cosmos. All quotes courtesy of Jonathan Wagner, while covering the FC Edmonton-New York Cosmos game for New York Sports Day, in Hempstead, New York, on October 20, 2013.