photo: Ita TC
HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — The New York Cosmos won’t win the 2015 North American Soccer League Fall Season title thanks to a recent rough patch that included only two wins and three losses over an eight-game stretch.
But that may not matter, because since then, the 2015 North American Soccer League Spring Season champions have suddenly climbed back to the top of the 2015 combined standings (with 50 points, one point ahead of both Minnesota and Ottawa), following consecutive, impressive 3-0 shutout wins in a five-day span (at Atlanta, on Wednesday night, and at home, over Edmonton, on Sunday).
With their sights set on finishing in that position and securing the top seed for next month’s playoffs, the Cosmos — who will host one of the 2015 league semifinal matchups as no worse than a two seed — seem to be hitting their stride again at just the right time, with only two games (and three weeks) left in the regular season.
It’s all about finding consistency as the NASL season winds down. To that end, New York answered its convincing win in Atlanta with an even more dominating victory over Edmonton. Against the Eddies, the Cosmos controlled possession 59 percent of the time, had all nine of the game’s corner kicks and held shot advantages of 17-4 overall and 12-1 in shots on goal. If not for Edmonton goalkeeper Matt Van Oekel’s heroics, New York might have embarrassed the Eddies with a margin of victory at least twice that of the three-goal difference which made up the final outcome.
“I think we’re looking very solid,” said head coach Giovanni Savarese, whose Cosmos, during his tenure (from 2013-15) remained unbeaten (27-0-8), including 10-0-2 in 2015 when scoring first.
“I think that the guys are starting to understand that we’re getting towards the end of the season and we need to finish strong in order to enter the playoff very, very clear what we need to do,” he added. “It was a good performance today, a good performance last game, but I think it’s more the intensity and how we play together collectively [of late].”
Midfielder Sebastian Guenzatti, who scored in the 37th minute to put New York up 1-0 on Sunday, said, “I think we kind of lost it for a few games, but [now] we’re [getting] back into rhythm.”
Fellow midfielder Danny Szetela, who played on his own Bobblehead Night on Sunday, as voted by Cosmos fans, said New York’s confidence never wavered. “Even the games we lost or tied, we played very well,” he said. “We just didn’t finish opportunities. These past two games, we created plenty of opportunities and finished them.
“We’ve just got to continue to stay positive. That’s something that, with this team, we’re always positive no matter what.”
Always looking to push his team more, Savarese is nevertheless pleased with his team’s sudden return to resembling the club that he led to an NASL title in 2013.
“There are little things that we can still improve, but I think when we play with this intensity and this passion, and together as a team, [we are tough to beat],” he said.
Earning the top overall seed and the home field advantage would be key for the Cosmos, who are 6-1-2 at home this year.
“[It’s] very important for us because we want to play at home if we have a chance to be able to make it to the final, and having that chance to play at home will be ideal for us,” Savarese said.
“I think our fans deserve it, most of all, and we deserve to play [at] home and see our fans, and [hopefully] celebrate with them.” Guenzatti said. “It will be amazing.”
Szetela, added, “Obviously, we’re going to host the semifinal. We want to host the final too. I think we owe it New York… we’ve won a championship before, [we’ve] been winning [most of] the year… New York deserves it to have the final here.”
However, only a potential championship game would be played at New York’s usual home, at Hofstra University’s James M. Shuart Stadium. Due to scheduling conflicts, the Cosmos’ Nov. 7 semifinal game will be moved to Brooklyn’s MCU Park, where New York has played just once (on May 2, in a win over Fall Season leader Ottawa, which along with Minnesota, has joined the Cosmos as 2015 playoff qualifiers thus far).
Don’t expect that to faze Savarese’s team, however.
“That’s the venue, and that’s where we have to play, and we need to make sure that we have to be strong anywhere we have to play,” Savarese said. “So there’s no time for us to say, ‘We would like to play here or there.’ No, it is in Brooklyn. We are excited about going back to Brooklyn. We want to be strong and have a good performance… the [only] option is Brooklyn and we are mentally ready to play in Brooklyn.”
One thing that Savarese would like to change, however, is the regular season scheduling, which includes, in his view, an unwanted, upcoming bye week before New York finishes the regular season with matches at San Antonio on Oct. 24 before the Cosmos host Tampa Bay (which is currently clinging to the final playoff spot for now) on Oct. 31.
“It’s a challenge,” Savarese said. “I wish we had to play [next week]. That way, we can maintain the momentum [we’ve built over the past two matches]. When you constantly play, it’s a much better situation. I wish we could continue to play every weekend but… the good thing as well, is that now we have two weeks in which we can recuperate and [be] physically very strong.”
Szetela noted, “[Our] guys are professional… I think the bye week’s okay this late in the season so guys can get the rest that they need and be fresh [for the last two regular season games and the playoffs].”
Reflecting on the entire Fall campaign, Savarese added, “We had some moments that could have been better in the Fall Season, but I think the guys played [all season] wanting to win… it’s good to see that start peaking to a different level [over our past two games].”
If that continues for four more matches, it could bring the Cosmos not only to another level as the Fall Season ends, but deliver another NASL title for the league’s most successful team of all time.