Let’s begin with the positives. This was my first visit to MCU Park of the season and, result aside, I thoroughly loved it. There can be nothing better than watching a game on a cool summer’s evening, rolling ocean in the background, while being serenaded by the incessant raucousness of the 5 Points and Cross Island Crew. And I could drink a beer while watching the game, a concept that is still mind blowing to a Scotsman.
The Nexxfield playing surface, which on TV looked like an ankle injury waiting to happen, looked lush in reality. As a veteran of many New York City turf fields of varying quality, this looked good enough to snooze on. Unfortunately the Cosmos defence took that a little too literally (but more on that later...)
The team also looked great. Scoreline, refereeing and final twenty minutes aside, the team looked truly beautiful in midfield. The formation was fluid and beguiling, the passing and movement was slick. The side on the whole looked fit and sharp and as a result were completely and comfortably in control of this game for nearly 70 minutes.
Throughout the first half, the Cosmos sustained possession gave the feeling that it was just a matter of time before the goals would flow. The link up between Mulligan and Ayoze on the left, Richter and Restrepo on the right stretched the Edmonton defence. Ayoze seemed to be the conduit for all of New York’s early chances, as he took on the playmaker role previously occupied by Javi Marquez. But despite several potent build-ups, the final ball from the Spaniard on the left and Restrepo on the right couldn’t quite find Herrera with enough time and space to capitalize. At one point it looked like the Cosmos would take the lead with a penalty as Restrepo was fouled on the right side of the box. Indeed the ref pointed to the spot, but was overruled by his assistant and the resultant free kick led to nothing.
Meanwhile, the pace and strength of FC Edmonton’s Tomi Ameobi (brother to Shola and Sammy of Newcastle United) was an indication of what would come, as he loomed on the counter attack.
But the Cosmos would end the half with a deserved lead. After another fluid build up, a deep cross from Richter finally found Herrera unmarked and the El Salvadorian cooly cushioned a header into the bottom right corner. The halftime whistle followed almost immediately and the New York Originals seemed to have this game under control.
The second half continued in similar fashion. The Cosmos sustained possession seemed to be slowly wearing Edmonton down. I’m sure I wasn’t the only Cosmos fan sniffing more goals. But in the space of just 10 minutes, this game would be turned on it’s head.
It began in the 69th minute. Against the run of play, Edmonton broke away, found the Cosmos defence napping on the Nexxfield (I don’t blame them...) and Sainey Nyassi was there to head home to tie it up. The Cosmos didn’t seem phased and looked intent on sticking to the game plan. But almost immediately the Eddies broke forward once more and, as forewarned, Tomi Ameobi popped up to scrappily give the Canadian team an unlikely lead. Here was a team who had scored only 5 goals all season and suddenly they had two goals in as many minutes.
This was when things began to get weird. As the Cosmos began to surge forward in an attempt to retake the initiative, Darrius Barnes, out of nowhere, received a straight red card. I’ll admit, I missed the incident as I was too busy making notes of the two goals that had just occurred. But looking at the replay, I still could not find cause for dismissal. Even Eddies captain Papé Diakité, with whom Barnes seemed to exchange words, shrugged his shoulders in confusion over the referee’s knee jerk decision.
Meanwhile, substitute Eugene Starikov, in for Man of the Match Irvin Herrera, was doing his best to get the Cosmos back in the game. Beating Edmonton keeper Ingham to a loose ball, his deft chip seemed to have levelled the score, only for Diakité to cooly clear off the line.
But, just a couple of minutes later, the ref reared his head again. After being brought down by Edmonton’s Eustaquio, Juan Guerra squared up to the number 10, who took the opportunity to fall theatrically backwards and fool the referee into reducing the Cosmos to nine men. From my vantage point at MCU, it looked horribly harsh. Looking at the replay, I can somewhat understand the decision, but Eustaquio certainly made the most or it.
At this stage, the Cosmos had nothing to lose and to Gio Savarese’s credit, he went all in, pushing captain Mendes forward as an ad-hoc striker and going with just two at the back. But inevitably, as the Cosmos tried to save face, Edmonton overloaded what was left of the Cosmos defence and two scrappy goals from Keegan and Ameobi again, put the game beyond doubt.
There was still some room for more craziness however. The Cosmos, who never stopped looking for goals, pushed into the Edmonton box in added time and Flores was brought down. Javi Marquez stepped up, stroked the penalty kick against the post and was promptly fouled attempting to convert the rebound. The second penalty was put away confidently by Ayoze, but with 94 minutes on the clock it was purely academic.
Anyone who didn’t watch this game might look at the scoreline and be frustrated or angered by the result. But it could be said the referee had more influence over this game than any player from either team. That said, Edmonton had taken the lead before either red card had been issued, converting pretty much their only chances, largely due to a napping Cosmos defence. Besides, for all their possession, the Cosmos should have had more than just one goal on the board by that time. Again it comes down to the lack of a potent target man. The Cosmos work the ball beautifully in midfield, and have so many players capable of putting in dangerous crosses and through balls. But almost every time last night, Herrera was alone in the box. Though he worked hard and was rewarded with a goal, the Cosmos need another strong presence up front to take advantage of their creative talents.
The Cosmos have a chance to immediately bounce back this weekend, hosting North Carolina FC at MCU Park on Saturday 10th June with kick-off slated for 4pm.