In 2013, the New York Cosmos started their playoff journey in the same place they ended their regular season. After a meaningless 1-0 victory in Atlanta during the fall season's final match, the boys in green returned for the Soccer Bowl, a match they won by the same margin.
In 2014, the Cosmos will again return to the same venue as their final regular season match to start their title defense. The NASL playoff format has changed in 2014 though, and the victor in Saturday's match will still have a championship match to play before being crowned the NASL's best.
The two clubs have met three times in 2014, with San Antonio emerging victorious in each of the three contests. The first was absolutely dominated by the Cosmos, but some atrocious finishing saw them fall victims to a smash and grab result. The second was all Scorpions, who deservedly opened the fall season by taking three points in New York. The final meeting was little more than an extremely rough preseason friendly, but the hosts nicked the points on the final kick of the rough and tumble affair.
The fourth meeting of the season between the two clubs will likely look vastly different than the third. While the Scorpions played a mostly first choice side in the season finale, the Cosmos are likely to make wholesale changes to the mostly reserve side that Gio Savarese selected. He'll have to do without David Diosa and Dane Murphy due to suspension, and it sounds as if he'll be without Roversio and Andres Flores who are still recovering from injury. Danny Mwanga is also a doubt, though there is some optimism around the club that he'll be ready if needed.
With that in mind, Savarese will have some interesting decisions to make with how he lines up on Saturday. Jimmy Maurer will likely start in goal, with Ayoze, Carlos Mendes, and Hunter Freeman all in front of him. Who partners Mendes in the heart of the defense will be one of the decisions to watch, but if he's healthy enough to start, I'd expect Seattle Sounders' loanee Jimmy Ockford to get the nod.
Ahead of them, I'd expect to see Marcos Senna paired with Danny Szetela. There's a chance Joseph Nane could join them to add numbers to the center of the pitch, but I'd expect to see either Mwanga or Hans Denissen helping Mads Stokkelien out from the onset, with Nane potentially coming on to close up shop if the Cosmos can snatch the lead.
Providing width, I'd expect to see Diomar Diaz stating again, now that he's healthy. Sebastian Guenzatti seems the safe bet to start on the other side, though the pace and power of Jemal Johnson could cause the Scorpions' stingy defense trouble later on in the contest.
Regardless of who Savarese selects, tonight will likely be a very physical affair in which the referee will be tested heavily. San Antonio might be the most physical, foul prone team in the league, and the approach the referee takes will likely be a huge factor in this one. Calling a tight game heavily favors the visitors, who are deadly from set pieces when Senna is healthy, and tend to commit far fewer fouls than the hosts. If the referee calls a game similar to last week, the Cosmos could have their work cut out for them unless they suddenly discover their shooting boots.
Either way, this should be a tightly contested affair, and with one side's season ending in about 12 hours, it will likely be scrappy as the clock winds down.