HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — Through 92 minutes, it looked as though the New York Cosmos were headed toward yet another Fall Season draw, until their second goal of the night from an unlikely source made everything feel just like last year for the defending North American Soccer League champions.
Entering Saturday night’s home match with the Ottawa Fury as a substitute in the 89th minute, midfielder Hagop Chirishian scored his first NASL goal of 2014 in the third of four second-half stoppage time minutes, to give the fourth-place Cosmos (5-4-6) a thrilling 2-1 victory at Hofstra University’s James M. Shuart Stadium on Saturday night.
Prior to Chirishian’s game-winner, New York, rather than inching back over the .500 mark for the 2014 Fall Season, seemed destined to add to its league-leading amount of ties this fall against the eighth-place Fury (4-7-4), which was eliminated from postseason contention with the loss.
Instead, a celebratory mood filled with music, shouting and cheering later filled the home locker room as the Cosmos were reminded of the many times they won in similar dramatic fashion en route to capturing their sixth NASL title last year.
What a difference a late goal can make.
“It was a moment in which it takes you back to last year and gives you hope coming into now, the last part of the season and [hopefully], the playoffs,” head coach Giovanni Savarese. “And today was an important win.”
As in its first two meetings with Ottawa, New York led 1-0 at halftime, as midfielder Diomar Diaz headed in his his first goal of 2014, in the 43rd minute, off of a nice crossing pass from fellow midfielder Danny Szetela, who recorded his initial assist of the year.
“All the time, Gio always tells me to run to the second post, and knowing that Szetela always makes those crosses to the second post, I was there at the right time,” Diaz said.
Savarese added, “Szetela put an unbelievable ball in the middle.”
But unlike those earlier two matches (on June 8 and July 20), a lone goal wouldn’t be enough for the Cosmos, as midfielder Phillipe Davies’ crossing pass from the right side was deftly sent into the net on a sliding poke by forward Tom Heinemann, in the 58th minute.
As with Diaz’s header, which went to the left of goalkeeper Romauld Peiser (three saves) as he moved to his right, New York goalkeeper Jimmy Mauer started to dive toward his right, as Heinemann’s deflection got by Mauer’s left side to even the score.
With time winding down, the Cosmos were applying pressure, with other substitutes besides Chirishian, especially when starting defender Ayoze left a pass for forward Hans Denissen, who came off the bench and rocketed a 22-yard blast that just missed the upper right corner of the net.
Nine minutes earlier, the Fury’s own replacement, midfielder Nicki Patterson, sent a left-footed shot from just inside the box, that barely missed the upper left corner of the goal.
In the first half, defender and team captain, Omar Jarun, made consecutive blocks in the 22nd minute to stop Ayoze and Diaz on a rebound.
Later on, Ottawa found the net a couple of times, but was whistled for offsides on each occasion.
Finally, with another draw looming, Chirishian came through, directing a cross by defender Hunter Freeman off of his leg and into the net for a 93rd-minute game-winner that rekindled thoughts of the types late-game heroics which labeled New York the Cardiac Cosmos last year.
“I made a near-post run but the whole time, I was looking at the ball and there [were] big defenders in front of me,” Chirishian said. “I just kept my eye on the ball. It just landed perfectly on my thigh, and that was the only way I could have put it on goal.”
He added, “It just happened so fast. It was a good cross by Hunter Freeman. The coaches always say, ‘Crash the goal,’ and it hit my thigh and went in. A bit of a lucky goal, but we’ll take it and take the three points. It’s a really good feeling to get a late goal and especially a great win for the team.”
Noting the uplifted mood of turning an additional draw into a stirring victory, Diaz said, “It was very important to get the three points and get some more confidence, knowing that we weren’t playing that well.”
Unable to see Chirishian’s goal from his normal sideline vantage point, Savarese — who was ejected in the 76th minute while arguing a questionable call — leaped in jubilation, looking down from the second floor of the Margiotta Hall training building behind the net.
“I didn’t know they had the cameras [on],” Savarese joked about that response.
On his ejection, Savarese said, “The dismissal was because it was a mistake of the referee. It was a clear corner (ruled an Ottawa goal kick)… he said that I was right outside of the [coach’s box] and that’s why he threw me out. The game was too big for the referee.”
Asked if he should have been given a warning over a knee-jerk dismissal, Savarese said, “One hundred percent.”
While hopes for capturing the Fall Season title are extremely slim for New York, the win put the Cosmos in good position to reach the postseason, with three regular season contests remaining.
The top four teams in the 2014 Combined Spring/Fall Season standings will reach the playoffs, with the first-place (Combined) Minnesota United having already punched its playoff ticket after edging New York by a point for the 2014 Spring Season title.
With 40 points (Combined), the Cosmos are in third place overall, ten points behind Minnesota and six points in back of the second-place San Antonio Scorpions, but five points ahead of fourth-place Fort Lauderdale and seven points in front of the fifth-place Carolina Railhawks.
Although New York won its regular season finale in Atlanta before winning the Soccer Bowl there a week later, Savarese doesn’t necessarily view the Cosmos’ final two road games (at Minnesota next week, and in San Antonio after a home date with Tampa Bay), as statement games, even though his squad could very likely have to win in those two places in the postseason.
He left that notion simply as, “I think they’re important games that we need to win… that will make us go to the playoffs.”
On the United, Savarese said, “They haven’t beaten us so far and definitely, that’s a thing I’m sure that they’re looking [at].”
Savarese also discussed the importance from a teaching standpoint of pulling out the win over Ottawa.
“It allows you to correct things, with a win, that players will understand a little bit more than you tell them when you lose [or tie],” he said. “It just leaves a very good air in the environment that we have in order to keep on working.”
The next chance to improve upon that feeling comes on next Saturday night, October 18, when the Cosmos kick off in Minnesota at 8 p.m. eastern time.