The Cosmos continued a winning preseason tour of the Dominican Republic with a 2-0 win over 2015 Liga Dominicana de Fútbol champions Atlético Pantoja. Both goals came late in a game that saw the Cosmos take a while to settle on surface that didn’t exactly encourage a good first touch.
After a scrappy opening with only a couple of speculative forays, the Cosmos began to create chances through some incisive passes from Javi Marquez and the strong presence of Amauri up front. Restrepo also got involved on the right side and produced some dangerous runs and crosses
But Pantoja we’re still a threat on the break, with Jimmy Maurer being called on to make a point blank save that caused the defence to receive a stern talking-to from the goalkeeper.
While Amauri loomed, finding himself offside on a couple of defence splitting Marquez through-balls, the other opportunities came from the back four. Both Ayoze and Richter employed the overlap to great effect, with Richter going close on a shot from range.
Gio Savarese didn’t experiment as much as expected, making only three half-time changes and keeping the same back four for all ninety-minutes. But he did make some key introductions for the second forty-five.
Trialist Eugene Starikov looked lively early, starting the half seemingly as a lone striker before Irvin Herrera was introduced not long after the restart. Italian Mario Marchionni, (mentioned in our game preview) took up, as predicted, a deep lying almost sweeper-like position. That allowed another half-time substitute, Juan Guerra and the impressive debutant Marquez to play in a more advanced role.
And so it was Guerra and Starikov who eventually combined for the opener on 77 minutes. Playing on the break (a tactic that Pantoja had used against the Cosmos for much of the night) Guerra cooly played in the unmarked Ukranian on the edge of the box, who advanced on frame and struck hard an low into the left corner.
The goal certainly galvinized the side for a few minutes, and Starikov began showing up all over the pitch, getting forward and tracking back to make tackles in midfield. But the game resumed the aura of preseason as both sides made some changes. Manjivar came on for Marquez and Ledesma for Alhassan (who was much quieter in the second half).
The Cosmos did continue to look vulnerable not just on the break but particularly at set pieces, with many free-kicks and corners causing problems all night. It looked like one such free kick would erase the clean sheet when Pantoja’s number 14, Jean Carlos Lopez, hit the post after Jimmy Maurer’s positioning provided an all-too-large target.
But just when it seemed that the referee (who on the whole had been a little trigger happy with his yellow card) would blow for full time, the cosmos hit once more. On 94 minutes, Starikov was again played in on the right side. Advancing in on the keeper, the closing angles suggested the chance may have gone, but a cutback to Irvin Herrera allowed the Salvadorian to slot a well-taken shot into the bottom left corner.
So a second win for the Cosmos, and encouraging performances from a number of players. It seems Gio is settled on his back four, meanwhile rest is still in flux. Walter Restrepo was lively, but with Starikov seeming to favour the right side, it might be hard to accommodate both in the same line-up. And while Amauri is a great presence up-top as a target man, Herrera appears to be a better fit for a more fluid frontline. But these are good problems to have and with a couple more signings still possible, it could all still change.
Either way, the team will close out their preseason against a domestic-based iteration of the Dominican National Team on Sunday. The game is once again at Pantoja’s home, Estadio Olímpico Félix Sánchez with the start time and streaming information to be confirmed later.