The Cosmos opened the 2013 season with a dramatic win, and tonight opened their second campaign in much more comfortable fashion. The wind contributed to some generally sloppy play, but at the end of the day, it's hard to find too much to complain about with a 4-0 victory in front of your home support.
The game got underway with New York trying to play in a similar fashion to last year, running a high pressure system when not in possession, and looking to build from the back. Atlanta adopted a slightly different approach, throwing bodies forward, crowding the New York defenders and midfield, and looking to bypass the Cosmos' pressure with balls over the top. The Atlanta approach made a lot of sense, especially considering that this unit hasn't been together long. Fortunately for the Cosmos, some shambolic defending on a set piece led to an opener for the home side just 23 minutes into the contest.
After an Atlanta defender dragged Mads Stokkelien to the ground, the referee immediately whistled for a foul. Replays seemed to show that the foul occurred inside the penalty area, but the ref placed the ball just inches outside. Marcos Senna lined up over the ball and proceeded to force Derby Castillo into a very difficult save. The entire Atlanta defense seemed content to ball watch though, and Carlos Mendes slipped in behind to bury the ball in the back of the net.
Ten minutes later, Mads Stokkelien looked set to find the back of the net in his debut. Unfortunately his shot was blocked by an Atlanta defender, but the rebound fell to the feet of Ayoze, who doubled the Cosmos' lead. Mendes added a third (and his second) before the break, when he was left completely unmarked on a corner.
Eric Wynalda made a tactical change at the half, bringing off a defender in favor of a fourth forward. The switch seemed to be working well early on, and New York was finding it difficult to get out of their own end. After nearly 20 minutes of Atlanta pressure Gio Savarese responded with a change of his own, and it restored some balance to the game. He brought on the speedy Jemal Johnson for Alessandro Noselli, and all of a sudden, his side had an outlet to start the counter attack.
From that point on it was basically all Cosmos, who added a fourth with 20 minutes to play. Sebastian Guenzatti dropped an excellent cross on the far post where Mads Stokkelien was waiting to nod it home. That goal seemed to suck any remaining life out of the Atlanta squad. From that point on it was just a question of whether or not the lead would increase to five, but Derby Castillo and the post did just enough to limit the damage to a four.
It wasn't the prettiest victory ever, but it was three points, it provided useful goal differential, and the result wasn't in doubt for very long. Our offense from set pieces looked organized and efficient. Mads Stokkelien looked like he's going to be a monster this season. Jimmy Maurer did a nice job stopping shots, even if some of his decision making left many of us scratching our heads. Without a doubt, there's work to be done, but after one match this season, it looks like the foundation of a team that can repeat as champions is in place.