HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — The New York Cosmos weren’t focused on getting payback. They only wanted to continue playing great soccer while recording yet another victory, regardless of the opponent.
That approach worked so well at James M. Shuart Stadium on Saturday night, that the Cosmos (7-1-3) avenged their only loss of the 2013 Fall season with the best performance of their current campaign, in a 4-0 throttling of the Carolina Railhawks (4-4-2) on Breast Cancer Awareness Night.
In many ways, New York can thank Head Coach of the Year favorite Giovannai Savarese for continually getting his team to focus on the things that have mattered the most all season.
Putting the Cosmos’ fifth straight win in its proper perspective, Savarese said, “Simply, the fact that we won the three points” trumped the thought of avenging New York’s only loss of the season, a 3-0 rain-soaked and windswept defeat in North Carolina, on August 17, which dropped the Cosmos to 1-1-1.
New York is a league-best 6-0-2 since then, and with a commanding seven-point lead (24-17) on second-place Tampa Bay, the Cosmos — in the first year of their second incarnation after a 29-year hiatus — with three regular season games left, are a win away from competing for the franchise’s sixth NASL title.
“We just needed time to be able to grow,” said Savarese. “To have this performance is satisfying enough. I heard some people talking about revenge and this is not us. We are just a team that is coming to play soccer and beat whoever we have in front [of us].”
Savarese professed that since New York’s lone defeat, the Cosmos have grown significantly.
“Definitely, it’s a different team now,” he said. “We’ve been playing more games, we’ve practiced a lot more, you can see the team has reached a point of cohesiveness, and everybody plays a role on the field… we’ve been playing a different formation, and so far, it’s been great.”
As he praised his players, Savarese initially neglected to point out the terrific job that he and his coaching staff did in breaking down the tape of New York’s earlier loss to Carolina, while observing some opportunities for vast improvement.
“There were a lot of things that we saw about Carolina,” he noted. “We wanted to make sure that we put a lot of pressure on them… so we pressured right away, from the beginning… there was a lot of planning and we’re glad that things worked out our way.”
Although he wasn’t tested often, with the Cosmos holding advantages of 18-6 in shots, and 11-3 in shots on net, goalkeeper Kyle Reynish posted his fifth shutout of the season, four of which have come on New York’s current winning streak.
Reynish’s job was made easy by his teammates being in attack mode and often keeping the ball in the Railhawks’ zone.
“It was from the first minute that the team came out with the right attitude,” said Savarese. “[They] completely dominated the game and they performed exactly the way we asked them to perform — pressuring, possessing the ball, making the runs, finding the goal early. I would say so far, it was the most complete game we have had this season.”
Still, the Cosmos only led 1-0 at halftime, on an early goal by midfielder Danny Szetela, in the 8th minute. That score allowed forward Diomar Diaz to redeem himself after dribbling the ball out of bounds a few minutes earlier, before he could send a pass in front of the net.
On Szetela’s goal, Diaz bent a nice crossing pass through box from the left side, which Szetela put away with his left foot for his first professional goal that he could remember in a while.
“I don’t know, you tell me,” was the Clifton, New Jersey native’s response (mixed with laughter) when asked about the previous time he scored as a pro (it was actually five years ago, while playing in an Italian league).
Just as New York did during its last home game (a 4-3 win over Tampa Bay on September 29), the Cosmos exploded for a trio of second-half goals, and very nearly had a fourth.
Diaz, who scored twice in the home win over Tampa Bay, extended New York’s lead to 2-0 on a goal that excited the home crowd at Hofstra University in the 53rd minute.
A long throw-in from near the right corner by defender Hunter Freeman was controlled in traffic, in the box by Diaz, before he scored from inside six yards on a nice sliding chip over the head of goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald.
“Diomar was great today,” said Savarese of the 23-year-old who hails from Savarese’s native Venezuela. “He keeps scoring. The more confidence he gets, the better he becomes. There’s a lot of talent there.”
After forward Stefan Dimitrov glanced a hard, curving shot off of the crossbar from well outside the box in the 66th minute, forward Alessandro Noselli, who scored a stoppage time game-winner in the Cosmos’ season opener, but who hadn’t played in a month, came off the bench in the 74th minute and had a direct impact on each of the Cosmos’ final two goals.
Noselli ran down a pass in the box, along the right wing, and was tripped, to draw a penalty kick — actually, two of them — by veteran midfielder Marcos Senna.
The first attempt by Senna was placed in the lower right corner of the goal, but it was negated by an encroachment call when a Cosmos teammate entered the box too soon. On the next try, Senna scored into the upper left corner of the net to push New York’s lead to 3-0 in the 76th minute.
Fourteen minutes later, Dimitrov sent another pass ahead on the right wing, which Noselli skillfully put just inside the near post on a lined drive, to close the scoring.
Although the Cosmos can now taste a possible fall regular season championship, which would send them on the road to face the Spring season champion Atlanta Silverbacks in the 2013 Soccer Bowl, on November 9, Savarese still won’t let his club think too far ahead.
“If at the end, those points add up to be able to win the championship, then at that moment we’ll be happy,” he said. “But at the moment we have our feet on the ground and the next game we need to win another three points.”
Finishing unbeaten at home seems just as important to Savarese as clinching a Soccer Bowl berth.
Referring to New York’s next match, as the Cosmos (5-0-1 at home) try to complete the home portion of their schedule unbeaten next Sunday, October 20, against Edmonton, Savarese said, “We have a game next week and that’s what we focus on… we have to come out strong to give a good performance for our fans that supported us.”
Should the Cosmos follow through on securing what now seems to be a likely appearance in the Soccer Bowl, it would set up an interesting scenario in early November.
Not only is New York’s 1-1 draw with third-place Atlanta, on September 7, the only time the Cosmos failed to win at home during the fall season, but the regular season concludes on November 2, with New York visiting Atlanta Silverbacks Park in what could very well be a dress rehearsal for a potential NASL championship game between the same teams, on the same field, exactly one week later.