In a fall season that has frustratingly failed to go to plan, the Cosmos finally fought for a home win at MCU Park on Sunday. It was just their second victory of the Autumnal session and their first since opening day, back in July.
This Puerto Rico side has understandably been on hiatus in recent weeks, with the team barely training before the Cosmos offered to share facilities this week. Given their recent status however, it was an impressively spirited performance that almost saw the Caribbean side hold on for a point.
Despite their lack of action of late, the game plan remained the same for Puerto Rico. Going into this game they had scored just five goals all Fall, while shipping just six in the same period. So a tight game was to be expected and as the second half progressed it became clear that whoever bagged the opening goal would likely take the win.
The first half told a different story however, as the Cosmos created chance after chance, only to be denied by a combination of luck and a sprightly Spangenberg in the Puerto Rico goal. Juan Guerra twice went close early; a returning Emanuel Ledesma saw an audacious overhead kick bounce just outside the post; and captain Mendes had the clearest cut chance of all, only to see his header strong-armed by the Puerto Rico keeper.
Many of the Cosmos most dangerous passages of play went through a combination of Marquez and Ledesma, who was oozing creativity. Although the official stats (and a late Puerto Rico break that was cleared off the line) suggested otherwise, the Cosmos were on top in the first half.
The second half started in much the same way as the first had finished, and indeed it looked like the Cosmos had got in front on forty-seven minutes. An Eric Calvillo header appeared to cross the line, but Spangenberg was there again to scoop it out. Several Cosmos players raised their arms in celebration, however the referee and his assistant declined to make the call. It was the kind of decision that goal-line technology was designed to make. Had this been a game in one of Europe’s top Hawk-Eye-equipped leagues, it likely would have registered as the opening goal.
Emboldened by their continued ability to deflect chances, Puerto Rico began to come back to life. However Gio Savarese responded with a crucial move on sixty-one minutes as a tiring Ledesma made way for the return of fan favourite Lucky Mkosana.
Though at times Lucky understandably looked like a player who has had little game-time this year, his crucial contribution came on seventy-three minutes. Hassling the Puerto Rico backline, Mkosana stripped the ball from the PR defender, and began a beautiful string of one-touch passes. Lucky fed Calvillo who ushered it to Vranjican. Pablo’s touch fell to Flores who saw Marquez wide open and surging into the left side of the box. The Spaniard had all the time in the world to pick his spot and powerfully place it past a helpless Spangenberg for the only goal of the game.
And so ensued a nervous twenty-plus minutes of action in which Cosmos fans would have been forgiven for fearing the worst, given recent results. And indeed, in stoppage time, hearts began to race in Cosmos country as Puerto Rico won a corner that was dangerously swung in. But Jimmy Maurer (making his first start in five games) was there to bravely put his body on the line and deny Puerto Rico their only real chance of snatching a point.
With the game all but over, Puerto Rico’s Ramirez saw red for his part in a tussle that could easily have seen Calvillo also ejected. But like the team as a whole, Eric came out unscathed to celebrate the final whistle, and a Cosmos win, just moments later.
This was a vital clean sheet for a Cosmos team that, until Indy’s 5-0 collapse to North Carolina tonight, had shipped more goals than any other side this season. In fact it was only the club’s second clean sheet in seventeen games and just Jimmy Maurer’s fifth of the season.
At last this was a game that went largely to plan for a beleaguered Cosmos side that had gone winless for over two months. Suddenly they find themselves in a strong position for a post season berth, as they leapfrog Jacksonville in the combined standings following the Armada’s loss in the Florida derby to champions elect Miami FC. The Cosmos are now joint fourth in the fall season and in sole possession of the last playoff spot in the combined standings. They will close out the season with fixtures solely against the teams below them in the league, including two more against Puerto Rico.
Although the future of the NASL, and with it the Cosmos, continues to be cast in doubt, at the very least the team will close out the season knowing it is in full control of it’s own playoff destiny.
Oh, and on that little issue with the US Soccer Federation? Rocco Commisso was as defiant as ever:
"I love soccer, I love this league and I will fight for what is right for a long period of time.” - Rocco Commisso pic.twitter.com/KumHjXmRek— First Team Podcast (@FirstTeamPod) October 1, 2017
The Cosmos are back in action next Saturday, 7th October at Indy Eleven’s Michael A. Carroll Stadium. Kick-off is 7:30pm with coverage on MSG and ESPN 3, as well as right here at Twice a Cosmo.
Maurer; Ayoze, Mendes, Jakovic, Mulligan; Flores, Marquez, Guerra; Calvillo, Ledesma (Mkosana 61’), Vranjican (Starikov 92’)
Cosmos Goal: Marquez, 73’