HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — All of a sudden, playing at Hofstra University’s James M. Shuart Stadium isn’t quite the home field advantage it used to be for the New York Cosmos.
After returning from their 29-year hiatus, the defending North American Soccer League champion Cosmos rebooted with an undefeated home record (5-0-2) last fall before going a solid 3-1-1 in the spring of this year.
This fall hasn’t gone nearly as well.
Although New York rebounded from a season-opening home loss to San Antonio (which snapped a 25-game unbeaten streak at Shuart Stadium) with a 1-0-1 road trip, that success didn’t continue back home, as a goal in the 38th minute from South African midfielder Ty Shipalane held up to give the visiting Carolina Railhawks (2-0-3) a 1-0 victory over the Cosmos (1-1-2) on Saturday night.
While Carolina pulled into a three-way tie for fourth place with its second straight win (after starting the fall with three losses in a row), New York fell into a tie for seventh place with Fort Lauderdale while losing consecutive home games for the first time in its modern era.
“It’s a concern,” head coach Giovanni Savarese said. “We always try to talk to [our] players about making sure that the mentality when we play [at] home, is that here, nobody is going to come to be able to beat us. But it’s not the case now. It’s two games in a row.”
Each of the four times the Railhawks and Cosmos have met has ended with a shutout victory for one side, usually for Carolina.
New York easily won the Railhawks’ prior visit to Hempstead, 4-0, last October. But Shipalane’s goal helped Carolina add its first road win over the Cosmos to its earlier 3-0 and 1-0 home victories over New York.
One minute after defender Kupono Low received a yellow card for taking too long before he finally sailed a free kick too high, Shipalane brilliantly weaved his way through traffic and into the box before rolling a shot past goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer, just inside the left post for the game’s lone goal.
Savarese noted, “I thought the first half, we had control of the game… I think they had only once chance [in the first half] and it was the goal, if you call that a chance. It was just something that Shipalane created by himself.”
“Shipalane’s a dangerous player,” said goalkeeper Jimmy Mauer (two saves), who almost got caught while coming out as much as 40 yards a few minutes earlier, and who came out about 10 yards to unsuccessfully cut the angle down on Shipalane’s game winner.
“We contained him for [most of] the 90 minutes but the one play… he just kind of caught me in between steps,” Maurer explained of Shipalane (two shots) on his score. “Six or seven guys could have made a play and it ends with me. I didn’t make a play either and it’s a goal. It’s just tough… I think I was in a good spot, I just got caught in between steps and didn’t get set. He kind of toe poked it. He did well to kind of catch me because I thought he was going to take the touch in between [defenders] Carlos [Mendes] and [Jimmy] Ockford and go in, so I was coming out for that.”
A turnover by forward Hans Denissen gave the Railhawks their first scoring chance 11 minutes earlier, but Shipalane’s shot from fairly close range, from the right side of the box, was denied for a corner kick at the last moment on a sliding deflection by defender Ayoze.
Other than that, it was New York (which doubled Carolina in shots, 16-8, including 10-3 in the second half) that had most of the scoring opportunities, but which couldn’t break through.
Known for their explosive scoring and several late goals to pull out wins or draws en route to their sixth Soccer Bowl title last year, the Cosmos have scored multiple goals just once in their past eight matches in 2014, and have yet to do so through their first four matches this fall.
“I think we were poor in the attacking part,” Savarese said. “I think if we were better in the final third [of the lineup], there’s no way we lose this game.”
Untested in the opening half, goalkeeper Scott Goodwin earned his clean sheet by making all seven of his saves after halftime.
Two players that New York signed earlier in the week — forward Andres Flores an defender Connor Lade — were immediately thrust into the starting lineup and tied midfielder Joseph Nane with a game-high three shots apiece.
“[Flores] made good decisions,” Savarese said. “He didn’t lose the ball too many times, he was good defensively, and he did a lot of good things going forward.”
Meanwhile, Lade, on loan from Major League Soccer’s New York Red Bulls, had the first shot of the match when his header from close range was a bit too high in the third minute.
Ockford’s first of two shots was also a header that missed a little high, toward the end of the fifth minute.
Each of Lade’s three shots came in the first half before he dislocated his left shoulder and was replaced by midfielder Marcos Senna in the 57th minute.
“I tried to leave it out on the field, and I think my shoulder is still out there somewhere,” Lade said, half-jokingly.
Senna was making his first appearance at home and just his second overall after entering in the 59th minute last week, during New York’s 1-1 draw in Fort Lauderdale. Before that, the 37-year-old heart and soul of the Cosmos’ squad, missed the team’s final two games of the spring season, three United States Open Cup matches and New York’s first two matches this fall.
“It always feels good to be playing again at home,” Senna said, before admitting, “I am a little bit out of rhythm.”
Maurer said of Senna, “We’re just a different team with him. He such a smart player. He finds passes that other guys can’t find. He helps break pressure because of that and he helps start the attack. So having him on the field is definitely a big help.”
Still, the Cosmos came close to finding the net without Senna, but Lade’s close header following a free kick from defender Hunter Freeman barely missed during the first minute of first-half stoppage time, and good chances from Ayoze and Lade in the finals seconds of the half were blocked.
Their best chance came four minutes into the second half when a header by team captain, defender Carlos Mendes (two shots) caused Goodwin to have to save the ball with two hands just outside the net while each of his feet were inside the goal. Mendes then fired the rebound too high.
A free kick from Senna was too high 13 minutes later, and Nane’s close, bouncing header off of a corner kick was saved two minutes after that.
Goodwin made two nice saves, first stopping a header by forward Sebastian Guenzatti in the 77th minute and on a Flores shot from just outside the center of the box five minutes later. Guenzatti (in the 92nd minute) and Ockford (in the 94th) were later each denied on close headers by Goodwin.
Although Senna admitted, “It’s always very frustrating when you lose at home,” he also refused to believe that the Cosmos home field edge is waning.
“Not at all. I think we have great players, I have great teammates and we’re just going to keep trying hard.”
Of the same mindset, Mauer added, “Even when Pele was here, they lost [home] games. Obviously, we’re not happy about it… we’re all really pissed off to make this better… this is unacceptable. At the same time, it’s no time to panic. We’ve still got a lot of games left.”
Whereas Savarese would prefer his team to play on a regular schedule with a full week in between matches, Senna and Maurer are looking forward to the Cosmos’ quick turnaround when New York hosts Edmonton (0-1-2, tied for last place) on the Wednesday evening, during the first Fireworks Night promotion at Hofstra since the Cosmos returned to the NASL.
“In my case, I would like to get back on the field as soon as we can to get over this game and win,” Senna said.
“It’s enough time for guys to recover physically,” Maurer added. “For me, I just can’t wait to get back on the field.”
Finding a silver lining in the schedule, Savarese said, “It’s tough because we have less time to prepare. But it’s tougher on Edmonton because they have to play tomorrow and then travel”
He also found positives to take away from the defeat while looking acknowledging a missed opportunity and looking ahead.
“There’s many things that we did that we can rescue that we did well tonight, but we lost and we don’t get anything at home,” Savarese said. “And that’s not good… but there’s many more games to play.”
Before that, Savarese and his other members of his coaching staff have their own matches to compete in on Sunday, when they play four-on-four street soccer matches in New York City’s Times Square.
Win or lose, that will be a lot more fun than trying to fixing the Cosmos’ sudden issues in a home building that was once caused a much bigger problem for road teams.