The New York Cosmos might have been hoping for a larger crowd on Sunday night at Hofstra, but they will certainly be pleased with what we saw on the pitch. The home side defeated Jacksonville Armada FC 2-0, earning their second win of the season, and remaining atop the NASL Spring Season table.
While the opener against Ottawa was a wide open affair from the very first kick, this weekend's contest with Jacksonville was a far more cagey affair. Neither team looked willing to take too many early risks or to apply pressure too high, instead waiting for their opponents to be caught out of position up field, or to simply make a mistake defensively. New York created the first real chance of the match just four minutes in, when a great give and go between Jairo Arrieta and Ruben Bover left the former DC United man with a look from inside of the box. Arrieta's shot went just wide, but the combination looked promising.
Two minutes later, Arrieta nearly got in on the Armada goal. The Costa Rican went to ground just outside of the 18-yard box while trying to get on the end of a pass, but the referee waved play on. There was certainly contact, but probably not enough that Cosmos fans should feel hard done by, though I've seen that call given thousands of times over the years.
Arrieta would come close yet again, with a shot just over the bar, before the Armada created their first chance in the 13th minute of play. Matt Fondy got the better of Jimmy Ockford, who had another nervy outing for the defending champs, turning him and getting free in the 18-yard box, forcing Sebastien Guenzattin to clear for a corner. The visitors created another good scoring opportunity in the 19th minute, when Pascal Millien found some space in the box, but headed an excellent cross just over.
With Jacksonville finally starting to press forward a bit, New York seized their chance to get the breakthrough goal. Jimmy Maurer went long after collecting the ball in his box, finding Juan Arango who headed the ball into the path of Arrieta. The forward, who had been playing on the shoulder of the last man, blasted toward the goal, and Jacksonville keeper Miguel Gallardo wasn't able to keep it out. Thirty minutes in, it was 1-0 to the good guys.
The Armada almost got an immediate equalizer, catching the back line napping after celebrating the goal. Fondy took advantage of Ockford yet again, getting behind the on-loan defender before being forced wide of the net by Maurer. That chance definitely caught the attention of the Cosmos, who managed to slow things down a bit after the scare, now that they had a lead.
With halftime just seconds away, we saw a test of PRO's recent push to punish more red card offenses. Alhassane Keita made an awful, studs up lunge that caught Ruben Bover on the ankle, forcing him from the field of play after treatment. Keita saw yellow following the dangerous challenge, and definitely should have seen a red, while Bover had to be replaced by Adam Moffat when the second half kicked off.
While being forced into a substitution is something coaches hate, watching the replacement make an immediate, positive impact on the match certainly makes those changes more palatable. With that in mind, Savarese was clearly thrilled when Niko Kranjcar found Moffat in the 55th minute, allowing the Scottish midfielder to blast one into the back of the net for the second match in a row, giving the home side a comfortable 2-0 lead.
Now down by a pair of goals, and still winless on the road throughout their history, Meola's side pushed forward, taking more chances. Charles Eloundou, who came on for Keita after the Cosmos second, managed to force Maurer into a fairly comfortable save. Creating those few opportunities was leaving the Armada open at the back, however, with Sebastien Guenzatti, Kranjcar, and Moffat all coming tantalizingly close to a New York third before the 70th minute.
In the 75th minute, Gio used his second sub, bringing Andres Flores on for Niko Kranjcar. Seemingly content to defend the two goal lead, the Cosmos stepped off of the gas and were almost punished immediately. Some sloppy defending by New York led to a wide open shot from Eloudou, who had just Jimmy Maurer in front of him from 12 yards out. Fortunately, the Armada man missed badly, letting the home side off the hook.
Eighty minutes in, Savarese made his final change, bringing Yohandry Orozco on for Guenzatti. Again, the Armada created another quality chance within second of the switch, when Ockford wiped out Maurer, leaving a gaping net for the Armada. For the second time in ten minutes, however, the away side weren't able to take advantage of the sloppy defending, and the two-goal advantage remained in tact.
Following that pair of scares, the home side decided to wake up, making sure they had men behind the ball. They still nearly added a third when Juan Arango hit the crossbar in the 90th minute, but for the most part, the defending champs were content to take the air out of the ball, and put the match to bed. They did just that, thankfully.
Two matches, two wins, two clean sheets. It's as good a start to the title defense as we could have hoped for.