Ottawa Fury FC left the door open for the New York Cosmos on Saturday night, being held to a draw by the Atlanta Silverbacks in their regular season finale. The Cosmos then took advantage of the slip by the fall season champions winning by a large enough margin to ensure that they'll be playing at home until they're eliminated, or until they're crowned North American Soccer League champions for a seventh time.
This match was all Cosmos from the opening whistle, with Rowdies keeper Matt Pickens being tested time and again. Unfortunately for New York, Pickens was up to the task, and thwarted every Cosmos chance in the first half.
The second half, started much the same as the first, with the Cosmos pressing hard, but Pickens making a pair of incredible saves to keep Gaston Cellerino and Walter Restrepo from opening the scoring. That great work wasn't enough to keep Raul from driving one through the five hole, though, which gave Cosmos fans hope that they'd get the result they needed in the Spaniard's final regular season match.
It took less than five minutes for the boys in green to double their lead, as Sebastian Guenzatti, who hit the outside of the post in the dying seconds of the first half, finished beautifully to make it 2-0. Tampa Bay, for whom goal difference didn't matter, reacted by bringing on extra attackers in an attempt to fight back for a draw, and the game opened up as a result.
Fortunately, New York continued to look like the more dangerous side, controlling possession and keeping the pressure on Pickens and the Rowdies defense. The 2-0 scoreline ensured that the Cosmos finished level with Ottawa on both points and goal difference, but having scored quite a few more goals than the Canadian side over the course of the campaign, are the top seed for the NASL playoffs.
The Cosmos semifinal opponent will be either the Rowdies or the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, depending on the Strikers' result tomorrow. With a Strikers win or a draw, it will be Fort Lauderdale next Saturday at MCU Park, while a Strikers loss will mean that for the third straight season, the Cosmos open their postseason with the same club they faced in the regular season finale. Regardless of who the opponent next Saturday is, however, it's good to know that a win means a home championship match for the first time in the club's modern history.
Well done tonight, boys, now keep it up for two more weeks before a long winter break.