When asked for comment after his Silverbacks side were finally put out of their misery on Sunday, Atlanta head coach Eric Wynalda had the following to say about the New York Cosmos:
"They're not as good as we made them look"
It's easy to look at that statement and assume that it's simply a bitter coach trying to downplay the opponents role in his side being played off of Long Island, but in this particular case, there might be some truth to his remarks. I doubt anyone who watched that came came away feeling that New York wasn't the far better team, but it was hard to look at that display from Atlanta and feel that a better side couldn't have pushed the Cosmos.
While watching the opening night performance, there were several things that really stood out to me as areas that the club can improve on. First and foremost, the aggressiveness of the goalkeeper could use some toning down. Several times on Sunday, Jimmy Maurer made the decision to come for a ball that he had no chance of getting, leaving an open net that better teams likely would have exploited. In fairness to Maurer, he also made a couple of sensational saves after leaving his line, and as the game wore on, he looked to be a bit more conservative in doing so. Hopefully this was just the result of some early nerves, and not something that continues to be a problem throughout the season. I'd still have to say we were a bit fortunate to keep a clean sheet on Sunday.
Roversio often found himself doing the work of two players, as Ayoze was caught up the pitch far too often against such a direct side. The Brazilian defender's frequent need to push further toward the exposed left flank left a channel between the center backs that Atlanta tried repeatedly to exploit, and most of the teams in the NASL would have been able to turn one or more of those attacks into a goal.
Finally, Alessandro Noselli, Sebastian Guenzatti, and Diomar Diaz often seemed unsure what runs or passes to make with Mads Stokkelien in the center of the pitch. With the club struggling to get any sort of contribution from the center forwards last season it was always likely that t would take some time for the attack to start to look cohesive, and Stokkelien's excellent holdup play and presence in the box is vastly different from what the club was getting last season. His support is going to have to adapt to that going forward, and when they do, I'd imagine they'll be among the better units in the league. For now though, they looked a bit out of sync.
Despite these three concerns, the Cosmos were good enough on Sunday night to beat just about anything the NASL has to offer. Regardless, Wynalda's comment still holds true. Gio Savarese and his side have a lot of work to do before they're the sort of club that's getting lopsided results based on their performance alone, and they can't count on their opposition being as poorly organized as Atlanta was every week.