Even if you have seen only a handful of Cosmos games this season, you probably already know how this one at MCU Park went down.
Yes, the Cosmos dominated possession against a robust Jacksonville Armada side. Yes, the Cosmos led in practically every statistical measurement. And yes, the Cosmos still went down to two bad-break goals without reply.
Gio Savarese had of course done his homework, realising that the bulk of Jacksonville’s goals had come from the midfield, with Jack Blake and Zach Steinberger the main contributors this year. So he decided to flood the middle of the pitch with Guerra, Szetela, Marquez and an energized Kobi Moyal. Though at first glance, this seemed like tactical nous on Gio’s part, it may be more representative of the team’s abundance of central players and lack of a true wide right man after the departure of Walter Restrepo. Gio did suggest in the post-match interview though that the selection of Moyal was based more on creative impact than strictly positional needs:
“We needed somebody there who could step on the field and give us something a little bit different”. Gio Savarese
Indeed Moyal was a standout early on, looking to take the Cosmos sustained possession forward with incisive runs and positive forward balls that did threaten to open up the Jacksonville defence. For a time it looked like the Cosmos would follow through on their early display:
“I thought that we started this game very, very well. Actually I think we had good energy, we looked solid. I thought we were doing things the way we wanted” Gio Savarese
In the end though, they were undone by two strange set-pieces. On thirty minutes a wicked Mechack Jerome free-kick beguiled the defence, perhaps with the benefit of an awkward bounce on the nexxfield turf. Juan Guerra was helpless as the ball came off his chest and trickled over the line as if in slow motion for the opening goal. Moments later, a Derek Gebhard strike was pushed out by Jimmy Maurer for a corner that would prove crucial.
The Jack Blake corner looked routine. Maurer called for it and just as he rose to collect, he seemed to lose momentum. Whether he lost his footing or was fouled by the Armada’s Drew Beckie became irrelevant as the ball fell at the feet of the big Irishman Ciaran Kilduff, who simply stroked into an empty net for an 0-2 scoreline.
Incidentally, Kilduff caused numerous problems for a Cosmos defence that looked generally vulnerable on set-plays. Armada fans will look forward to seeing more from the recent signing from League of Ireland Champions Dundalk, who could prove the perfect foil to the team’s midfield potency.
And so a familiar game ensued for the Cosmos. Dominant, yet chasing goals without a real threat against a team that was more than happy to sit deep and absorb the waves of pressure.
The second half did bring some good news. On fifty-nine minutes, we saw the return of local hero David Diosa after a lengthy injury (coming in for Kobi Moyal, who Gio tells us is still working on fitness). It also saw the return of Juan Arango on eighty-two minutes, though his introduction in place of aforementioned Diosa was a cause for concern. Vranjican was also got on the field on seventy-seven minutes as the Cosmos tried to convert their formation of four central midfielders to a four-man frontline. Vranjican perhaps went closest, but his header inside the six-yard box went straight at the keeper.
Overall though, as we’ve seen several times this season, the Cosmos lacked an outlet. The Armada only looked like scoring when the Cosmos made a mistake, the Cosmos didn’t really look like scoring at all. Starikov, for all his energy and ability to unsettle the opposition on the ball, wasn’t quite effective as a lone ‘false nine’ of sorts. Looking to run onto through balls (a Marquez, Mulligan and Ayoze specialty) he either found himself beaten in the air or beaten by the offside trap. Andres Flores showed some offensive spark early, earning the Man of the Match award but was also stifled when Armada went into lockdown:
“We all need to find spaces...against a team like Jacksonville, they play very good defensively. We were good with the ball, but not with chances” Andres Flores
A key issue that keeps rearing it’s head is fitness. Starikov definitely faded late (and we know he’s been working towards full fitness all season). Moyal was able to give sixty minutes, Diosa was coming back from injury and wasn’t able to finish the game as a substitute (we hope he’s ok). Arango only rejoined the team a matter of days ago, and told Front Row Soccer’s Michael Lewis this week that he has “some catching up to do”. Both Lucky and Ledesma didn’t make the bench. In spring, this was also an issue and seems to be a symptom of high player turnover. The Cosmos are regularly losing and signing players, but often the newcomers arrive off the pace. We have to ask: If they aren’t able to meaningfully contribute while the Cosmos are still in contention, then why sign them at all?
Which brings us to the last point - the playoff picture. The Cosmos currently sit second-bottom of the Fall Standings. But relax! This is an eight team league - the Cosmos have a game in hand and can rise to 4th with a win and they still hold fourth spot in the combined standings...
With Miami dominating proceedings, it really is wide open for the three other playoff spots. If San Fransisco finish strong, they’ll look to be a lock for second place. PRFC and Edmonton, though rebounding, probably have too much ground to make up in the combined standings and Indy continue to stutter. So it could well be a three-way shoutout between the Cosmos, NCFC and Jacksonville for the two remaining spots.
The Cosmos are on the road to Miami on Wednesday and Puerto Rico Saturday to cap a hectic week. When they return to Brooklyn, they’ll start a three-games-in-one-week-home-stand (I believe thats the official term...) on September 17 against tonight’s opponents, Jacksonville Armada. By then, it could prove to be make or break in the push for November. Another frustrating night then and it could all start to slip away. Andres Flores knows it too:
“A lot of frustration, but we know that we’ve got to keep working” Andres Flores
Cosmos: Maurer; Ayoze, Mendes, Barnes, Mulligan; Moyal (Diosa 59’, Arango 82’), Guerra (Vranjican 73’); Flores, Marquez, Szetela; Starikov. Unused Subs: Zobeck, Richter, Calvillo, Bardic,
Jacksonville: Patterson-Sewel; Ryden, Beckie, Jermone, Rebellon; Banks (Maripuu 89’) Blake, Pitchkolan, Shriver (Steinberger 83’); Kilduff, Gebhard (Johnson 71’). Unused Subs: Nasta, Doue,
Referee Younes Marrakchi, Official Attendance: 4,873