HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — Not even a second-half penalty kick from star midfielder Marcos Senna nor a man advantage over the final 16 minutes, plus stoppage time, could help the struggling New York Cosmos end their scoring drought on Wednesday night.
Instead, the Cosmos (1-2-2) had to settle for a scoreless draw with FC Edmonton (1-2-2) as their offense fizzled out while reaching a scoreless streak of 263 minutes on Fireworks Night at Hofstra University’s James M. Shuart Stadium.
After going 8-1-3 at home over its first two seasons since returning to the North American Soccer League last year, New York is winless (0-2-1) at home in the current Fall season, and hasn’t scored since forward Jemal Johnson’s 7th-minute score gave his team a one-goal lead during a 1-1 tie in Fort Lauderdale on July 26.
The Cosmos have been limited to as many goals (four) over their past seven home matches as they scored right before that stretch, during a 4-0 win over Atlanta in their Spring season opener on April 13.
Very seldom goal scorer, team captain Carlos Mendes had a shocking two goals in that game. While it’s no surprise he hasn’t found the net since, it is surprising that as a group, the defending NASL champions — who have eight goals in their past four road matches — have had so much trouble trying to score at home.
Yet New York remains positive, looking at the bigger picture of how they played while dominating Edmonton everywhere but on the scoreboard.
“I think overall, we’re happy with the way we performed tonight,” Mendes said.
Head coach Giovanni Savarese added, “We played very well tonight. We were a good team that controlled the match. We put crosses in, we broke [Edmonton] apart… Marcos Senna missing a PK, the chances of that? Very rare. I have been critical of our team in the past. But [tonight], the only thing missing was the goal. We did everything else. We broke them apart in the second half. And not only because they had 10 men, [but also] when they had 11 players.”
Savarese wasn’t wrong. The final possession was 54-46 percent in favor of New York, and it seemed much greater than that since the Cosmos held a 56-44 percent edge at halftime and much of the match after that point was played on the visitors’ side of the field.
Edmonton was also whistled for six of the game’s seven cards, as the Eddies received five yellow cards and a red card, to forward Tomi Ameobi, which put Edmonton down a man from the 74th minute, forward.
Outshooting Edmonton 4-3 in the opening half, New York held a huge 15-3 shot advantage, including 4-1 in shots on goal, during the second half.
“We tried from every angle – outside, inside, mid-field and we just couldn’t get the ball in,” Senna said.
Still, Senna felt as Mendes did about their club’s effort.
“I walk away with the feeling that we did play a good game tonight, and if we keep this up, we’re going to do well,” the Brazilian former star with Spanish team Villareal said through an interpreter, while admitting that the Cosmos may be pressing a little too much to score at home versus on the road.
“Sometimes the anxiety of wanting to get a goal [at home] gets the best of us,” Senna admitted.
New York’s best scoring chance came when goal keeper John Smits (six saves) collided with Johnson in the box to set up a penalty kick for Senna in the 51st minute.
Trying a stutter step move to try to fool Smits, the 38-year-old heart and soul of the Cosmos, sailed the attempt well high.
Asked if he would rethink that type of approach rather than simply stepping up and taking a more common type of penalty kick in one motion, Senna said he wouldn’t.
“It’s my first [penalty kick miss] and hopefully my last,” he said. “I’ve always done my penalty kicks like that. Out of 10, I’ve gotten nine.”
Although the miss was stunning, Savarese said simply of Senna, “He’s human.”
Senna was much closer in the 69th minute when his free kick from 22 yards away grazed the top of the crossbar.
That one, Senna thought, was going in. “Yes,” he said, smiling, when asked if he thought that attempt would result in a goal after the ball left his foot.
Several nice crosses into the box ended with Cosmos headers or other tries that either barely missed or were stopped by Smits.
In the 40th minute, defender Hunter Freeman sent a dangerous ball into the box for forward Hans Denissen, but Smits punched it away.
Two minutes later, a throw-in from the right side came into the box, then back out to forward Sebastian Guenzatti, who blasted a hard shot too high.
Three minutes after that, Edmonton wasted a golden 3-on-1 opportunity when goalkeeper and Man of the Match Jimmy Maurer (three saves) came out to the middle of the box to deny defender Lance Laing with a diving left-handed stop.
“They were able to counter on us,” Maurer said of the play. “Luckily, I was able to make the save. It was just a bad breakdown [defensively].”
A shot that Maurer couldn’t do anything about came in the 79th minute, when midfielder Neil Hlavaty very nearly produced the only goal of the match. But his free kick from outside the left corner of the box struck the top of the crossbar.
Defender Ayoze had a free kick from 19 yards out at the other end three minutes later, but Smits made a terrific right-handed save.
A few other chances thereafter caused some excitement, yet ultimately disappointment, for most of the 4,524 in attendance.
“We’re close, we’re just not quite sharp enough,” said Maurer after the Cosmos players stuck around to watch the fireworks with the crowd. “It’s not that guys aren’t working hard or we’re making terrible decisions. It’s one decision is a little slow or just one pass is a little bit behind… we’ve just got to be really sharp, especially in the final third.”
For now, the Cosmos’ inability to score at home won’t cause Savarese to make a major strategy change. However, that could change if the same issues continue.
“If the time comes for us to change something tactically, I’m prepared to do so,” he said.
When New York’s scoring was more consistent, so was its lineup. But key striker Alessandro Noselli recently returned home to Italy to tend to his ill father and several injuries have caused Savarese to juggle the lineup while trying to find the right offensive combinations.
On that, Savarese acknowledged, “[We] don’t have a consistency that [we] would like.”
He and Maurer seemed equally frustrated by the Cosmos’ unexpected position, having just five points, while sitting in a three-way tie for seventh place.
“When we look at ourselves in the table, we know that is not where the New York Cosmos should be,” Savarese said.
Moments earlier, Mauer said, “One point isn’t sufficient to move up the table, we’ve got to get three.”
Yet they and the rest of the team remain hopeful with still 13 games to play in the Fall season after New York finished the Spring campaign in second place, just a point behind Spring champion Minnesota.
“I don’t think anyone’s in a terrible state right now,” Maurer insisted.
Building upon that sentiment, Savarese said. “We saw the team that we want to see. We saw character, determination, we saw the team from last year [tonight] and from that standpoint, we can build… the way we played [tonight] is what we are looking for.”
Now if they can just score at home.
That chance won’t come again until August 23, against Minnesota, after New York has a 2013 Soccer Bowl rematch in Atlanta on Saturday night, followed by a trip to Tampa Bay the next week.