All photos by Jon Wagner, New York SportsDay
HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — Many of the faces keep changing, but the successful results remain very much the same for the New York Cosmos.
Nearly five months after striker Gaston Cellerino accounted for all of his team’s scoring in the New York Cosmos’ 3-2 Soccer Bowl win over the Ottawa Fury, one of the players who replaced Cellerino very nearly recorded his own hat trick within a five-minute span on the same field, against the same team.
Venezuelan midfielder Juan Arango — one of 10 newcomers on the Cosmos’ 25-man roster since New York captured its seventh North American Soccer League title and second in three years last fall — ultimately settled for a brace on a pair of first-half goals just two minutes apart to lead the Cosmos to a 3-0 season opening win over Ottawa before 5,094 hearty souls on a chilly, windy evening at Hofstra University’s James M. Shuart Stadium on Sunday evening.
Marking a long-awaited return from injury, midfielder Adam Moffat added another goal on a long drive into an empty net during the second half as New York served notice to the rest of the NASL that although the Cosmos made a lot of key changes during the offseason, they intend to stay on top.
“If that’s what happens after this game, great,” said head coach Giovanni Savarese, who has been New York’s coach since its return to the league in 2013. “[But] I don’t think that way. I think only now about the next game for us to play… I don’t know if it sends a message [to the rest of the league] or not.
“The most important thing for me is that I have a group of players that are competitive [and] hungry. I like to see that some guys are not happy that they didn’t play [tonight] and they want to [compete for roster spots], and that way, we’re going to become a better team.”
Goalkeeper Jimmy Mauer (four saves), one New York’s 15 holdovers from last year, likewise took the win in stride rather than seeing the convincing victory as a season kickoff message being sent to the remainder of the NASL that the Cosmos, despite their many changes, are still to be reckoned with as a title contender.
“I don’t like to talk about things like that, about how other people view us,” Maurer said. “All I’m thinking about right now is the things we didn’t do well tonight. We won 3-nil tonight, and it was great. We’re happy with a lot of things, but it’s very early in the season. These points don’t mean anything if we go downhill from here. Our goal is to win the Spring Season. It’s a short race and we’ve got to keep getting wins.”
Something that neither Maurer nor Savarese shied away from, however, was praising the debuts of Arango and New York’s other new players.
“Juan was awesome,” Mauer said. “He obviously scored the goals, but he was a lot more than that. He was able to give us some height. We’re not the biggest team. He was very strong in the air.”
Fellow returnee, midfielder Sebastian Guenzatti, added of his new teammates, “I think they did a very good job, especially Arango [with] two goals. That was very big for the team.”
Guenzatti even compared the savvy 35-year-old Arango’s clever play to that of international star Raul, who led the Cosmos in scoring last season before retiring from the sport.
“He’s smart, he moves well, and he’s always there in the right spot,” Guenzatti said of Arango.
Although New York put some earlier heavy pressure on Ottawa a couple of times, the Cosmos couldn’t find the back of the net until newly acquired Costa Rican forward Jairo Arrieta (who after prior stints with Major League Soccers’ Columbus Crew and D.C. United, was New York’s only starting forward, along with five midfielders and four defenders), rolled a perfect assist the right wing to Arango for the game’s first goal in the 36th minute after goalkeeper Romuald Peiser (five saves) came out to meet Arrieta.
“I thought Arrieta was fantastic today,” Savarese said. “His movements, his connections… he was able to connect well with Arango, with Seba. He had a very good game and that’s [why] we brought him here.”
Just two minutes after his first goal, Guenzatti sent a crossing pass that Peiser knocked down by diving to his right. But with Peiser down, Arango put away his second goal into an unguarded net.
Arango almost struck again in the 41st minute, but he was denied from close range by Peiser, who leaped to barely get his left hand on the ball and keep it out of the net.
Thirty minutes later, midfielder Andres Flores looked for Arango streaking up the right side. His long pass was kicked ahead by Peiser at the edge of the box, but the ball came right to Moffat, who chipped a shot over Peiser and into an empty goal from 45 yards out.
Asked if he could have had a better return after battling injuries since last season, Moffat happily said, “No. It’s been a long [road back], finishing last season injured, [then] I missed every single preseason game… I worked hard to get back on the field… I started practicing a couple weeks ago… and to get some minutes [tonight] was great, and then obviously, I got a goal, so personally that was really good.”
Reflecting on his tally, the Scottish rare goal-scorer, who subbed in for midfielder Ruben Bover eight minutes before scoring, admitted, “I panicked a little bit. When it comes to you like that, there are so many things going through your mind. Do I take a touch? — I didn’t take a touch, did I? (Moffat tried to recall) — or do I hit it hard? I kind of composed myself a little bit… [I tried] to use the wind a little bit. I guess it was finesse. I don’t usually do that. I [normally] try to hit it as hard as I can.”
Joking about Bover’s response to his goal, Moffat added with a laugh, “He was sitting next to me in the locker, moaning about it, ‘Why are you scoring, why are you scoring?’ I’m sorry, Ruben.”
Although Moffat’s score was simply icing on the cake, Savarese noted, “That goal was crucial. That kind of settled the game to give it back to us when we were having a little trouble. He’s a very important player for us. We’re glad that he’s getting back to [being] one hundred percent [healthy].”
While the Cosmos controlled the ball for 52 percent of the match, the second-half struggles that Savarese alluded to was evident by New York’s much better possession advantage of 61.1 percent before halftime.
If not for some fortunate breaks, the Cosmos (who had eight shots on net to the Fury’s four, despite the teams taking 12 total shots each) might have needed more than the goals they got from Moffat and Arango.
Defender Rafael Alves (who matched Arango’s game-high four shots) barely missed outside of each post — in the 28th and 58th minutes — on jumping headers off two of Ottawa’s seven corner kicks.
Midfielder Paulo Junior also had a couple of good chances from close range, but was turned aside on a sliding leg save in the 33rd minute by Mauer before a misplayed ball deep in the box by team captain and defender Carlos Mendes made it necessary for Maurer to deny Junior in the 54th minute on an even nicer kick save with his left leg.
However, the night was mainly about Arango and New York’s new pieces picking up right where last year’s title-winning Cosmos left off.
“It was a great debut, a great night,” Arango said. “Being able to score two [goals] is like a dream and I’m just very happy about it.”
Able to mesh right from the start of the season, Arango said, “From the first day [in practice], I think we had good chemistry. Little by little, I’ve been learning how to adapt myself to [my new teammates]. But overall, I think we are playing well together.”
Savarese said, “We knew we were going to be a different team… but I feel that we have more depth this year.
“Overall, it was a good performance. I think we can still improve, but I think it was a very positive start. I think the team had a lot of good moments today… Arango had a very good game in being smart and finding spaces… in order to be able to score… he was very smart in the way he moved. It was very important to find those two goals in key moments, in order to be able to control the match. He was huge for us [tonight].”
A longstanding relationship between Savarese — whose time spent on the Venezuelan national team (from 1989-2001) overlapped that of Arango’s (from 1999-2015) on the same club for three years — helped bring Arango to New York in the offseason.
“We had been talking for a while,” Savarese said. “It’s not something that happened overnight… I played with him when he started, when he was very young… we kept in touch, always… and then he decided to come [to New York]. For us, it was a very important moment to be able to bring him in. He’s another smart player [and it showed] right away, [in] the first match.”
Yet, as Arango and the Cosmos’ other newcomers have quickly learned, much of what has kept New York so good under Savarese is New York not resting on its laurels.
Putting the win into perspective, Maurer said, “It was a good result [but] we’ve got a lot to work on moving forward. [We’re] happy to get a 3-0 victory at home, but it’s early in the season. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Still, it seems that after the Cosmos’ season opener, the rest of the league might still have to work even harder to catch up with the defending champions.
New York will return to action when it hosts Jacksonville next Sunday at 6 p.m. ET.