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Season Opener Ends with Scoreless Draw in Puerto Rico

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Against all odds, The Cosmos kick-off NASL season with a road point

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Less than 3 months after it seemed like the team would cease to exist, the New York Cosmos, almost miraculously, took to the field Saturday night to kick-off their fifth modern-era NASL season.

Facing Puerto Rico FC at Juan Ramón Loubriel Stadium, the Cosmos new-look line-up appeared in their new-look all-white Inaria away kit. Puerto Rico, like their guests, fielded a much different team from their inaugural season. But the result was one that Cosmos fans will be familiar with - despite all the off-season upheaval, the Cosmos seem still to be a team with a predilection for draws. (In fact all three of the games in the NASL today ended in draws, with only four goals league wide)

Though the Cosmos line-up featured six familiar faces, 5 starters were making their competitive debuts - including New England Revolution veteran Darrius Barnes, who only officially joined the team yesterday.

On a playing surface that looked less than optimal, the Cosmos dominated possession early. And as in preseason, they looked most dangerous on the wings, with both Ayoze and Richter getting forward from their full back positions. It was Ayoze who provided opportunities for both Irvin Herrera and Darrius Barnes from set pieces, but neither opportunity was particularly clear-cut.

Puerto Rico began to frustrate the Cosmos as the first half wore on, containing the men in white with, at times, two compact blocks of four behind the ball. And while the Cosmos struggled to carve out opportunities, Puerto Rico were effective on the break, being thwarted only by Jimmy Maurer on a number of occasions.

Throughout the first half - Andrea Mancini, who got the nod ahead of the breakout star of preseason Eugene Starikov, was largely anonymous. And though the holding midfield pairing of Szetela and Guerra were busy, the Cosmos missed the creativity that Javi Marquez had provided in pre-season. In fact the Spaniard was entirely absent from the game-day squad, and without any announcement from the team on that front, we can only assume that it was due to injury.

Though there were no changes for the second half, a number of stoppages for injuries disrupted the flow of the and allowed Puerto Rico in to the game a little more. One such injury was to Irvin Herrera, who had looked lively in the first half. Herrera strangely made way for Jimmy Mulligan, who was entirely non-existent for the remainder of the match.

Gio Savarese finally took off the ineffective Mancini for Alhassan on the hour mark and soon after the Cosmos were presented with the best chance of the game. Picking up a loose ball at the top of the box, Andres Flores played a beautiful one-two with Amauri to find himself in on goal. However he dragged his shot wide, with Amauri showing visible frustration as the chance passed

As the lone striker Amauri began to assert his physical presence, he too was substituted. Starikov came in for the Italian veteran, leaving the Cosmos, still needing a goal, without an out-and-out striker.

As Puerto Rico began to apply pressure late and the playing surface continued to deteriorate, the Cosmos started to get a little desperate. Starikov made an instant impact (raising the question as to why he wasn’t introduced sooner) and played some dangerous balls from both flanks, almost finding Guerra on one occassion. Guerra himself had an opportunity with a free-kick at the edge of the box, but fired over.

Puerto Rico then came close a couple of times. Jairo Puerto looked to be clean through on goal, only for captain Carlos Mendes to find some pace out of nowhere to dispossess the Honduran. Puerto went close again soon after with a deft chip that was saved by Maurer.

As injury time began, the Cosmos had one last foray in the final third. An Alhassan corner led to a game of six-yard-box pinball, but Jimmy Mulligan and then Darrius Barnes weren’t quite able to put the ball in the net.

And so it’s a point on the road to open the season for the New York Originals, which is never a bad outcome. But Cosmos Country will be forgiven for feeling frustrated at not being able to turn their possession and early dominance into a victory. Gio’s decision to entrust Andrea Mancini with a starting berth certainly backfired, and the introduction of Jimmy Mulligan did nothing to advance the cause. After Starikov’s pre-season success, some might be surprised that he didn’t get more game time, and Javi Marquez’ absence was a loss. But new recruit Darrius Barnes proved a valuable addition, looking solid at the back and an aerial threat at set pieces.

So, certainly some things for Gio to think about as the Cosmos prepare for their Brooklyn opener next Saturday against Alessandro Nesta’a Miami FC. But after the tumultuous off-season and the near collapse of the entire NASL, all concerned are no doubt delighted that there is football being played at all.

Kick-off at MCU Park next Saturday, April 1st is at 7pm, and for local fans who can’t make it to Coney Island, the game will be aired live on Pix 11

Lineup:

1 Maurer; 17 Ayoze, 4 Mendes, 25 Barnes, 2 Richter; 14 Szetela, 16 Guerra; 11 Flores, 8 Mancini (Alhassan 60’) , 19 Herrera (Mulligan 56’) ; 15 Amauri (Starikov 73’)

Unused subs: Velela, Calvillo, Restrepo