HEMPSTEAD, N.Y — New York Cosmos goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer is paid to keep soccer balls out of the goal rather than put them in the net, but on the most unlikely of attempts, he very nearly had the first tally of his career at Hofstra University’s James M. Shuart Stadium on Wednesday night.
Although his long shot (or pass?) was ultimately turned away on a great save by his counterpart, Sean Lewis, Maurer had more than enough help, as midfielder Andres Flores scored his first goal of the season and assisted on another (defender David Diosa’s first goal of the year) in the first half, before a blast from midfielder Adam Moffat, in the second half, gave the Cosmos an easy 3-0 win over the Jacksonville Armada, which remained winless (0-16-5) on the road since joining the North American Soccer League as an expansion team last year.
Keeping with that he’s used to, Maurer also made a couple of nice stops to keep earn a clean sheet, as New York defeated its former teammate, forward Jemal Johnson, while head coach Giovanni Savarese maintained personal bragging rights over his own ex-teammate, Tony Meola, who prior to becoming Jacksonville’s head coach, was a star goalie while Savarese was a star goal scorer, as the pair led the Long Island Rough Riders, and then the MetroStars, in the mid-to-late 1990s. Meola’s Armada also lost in Hempstead, 2-0, on April 10. The third meeting between the two friends will be the first on Meola’s home turf, in Jacksonville, on October 15.
Winning for the third straight time to start the Fall Season, New York (9-4-0, 27 points) bolted to a comfortable five-point lead on second-place Indy overall, while moving the same distance ahead of Jacksonville (2-6-5, 11 points) and three other teams that are tied for second place in the early portion of Fall schedule.
The only time the Armada found the back of the net was in the second minute, when an offsides call waived off what would have been a goal.
Countering with some deep balls into the Jacksonville box, New York started aggressively, but it wasn’t until Maurer sent the longest ball of the night from the arc just outside his own box, that things began to get really interesting in the 10th minute.
Standing in the middle of his own box, Lewis saw the ball take big hop off the artificial surface, a few yards in front of him and over his head. Lewis was forced to quickly scamper back toward his own goal line, where he dove and just barely saved a goal that would have been as unpredictable as embarrassing.
“He did really well to be able to get back and make that dive to touch it out,” Maurer said of Lewis.
Quite understandably, it was the best scoring chance Maurer’s had at his current level.
“That was probably the closest I’ve come professionally, for sure,” he said.
Yet, being part of the goalkeeping fraternity, such a goal might have been bittersweet.
“There was a bit of wind, the field was slick [and] it took a nice skip,” Maurer said. “As a goalie, [I] can almost feel for [Lewis]. When [Team USA] Tim Howard scored his (101-yard) goal (for Everton, in 2012), he was like, ‘I can’t celebrate that because I feel so bad for the [opposing] goalie’ because it’s just a fluke thing. I wasn’t trying to score or anything. It’s just one of those things that can happen with some different [playing] conditions.”
But that doesn’t mean that Maurer nor his coach wouldn’t have been excited, all the same.
“That would have been tremendous for Jimmy, I think the first time [for any goalkeeper] in the NASL,” Savarese said.
Recalling the play, Maurer said, “My eyes went wide. I thought, maybe… but more than anything, you just want your team to go up. You want to get that first goal and get up 1-0. Some of the guys said it went in, [that] I should have had it.”
Among them, Moffat and Flores.
Moffat said, with a smile, “It was close, right? That would’ve been great. I wanna see that one again [with] goal line technology. I thought we had it.”
With a laugh, Flores added, “I thought it was going in. It was crazy. My first reaction was to go to the referee on the sideline and tell him, “It went in! It went it!” It would have been a great goal.”
Although he’d have felt for his fellow keeper, Maurer admitted that unlike Howard, he has a celebration dance ready in case the day ever comes when he scores a goal.
“I’ve been practicing for years,” he joked.
As the match returned to more conventional plays, the Cosmos began to apply some pressure.
A nice cross through the box, by Flores, past an outstreched Lewis, drew some excitement from the home crowd, but no one was on the receiving end for New York in the 13th minute.
Four minutes later, Diosa, despite being harassed closely, was able to send a difficult shot from the left wing at the net, where Lewis made a terrific leaping save with his right hand, before he fell backward into the net.
However, just 10 minutes after that, forward Lucky Mkosana, who had two goals, including a late game-winner during the Cosmos’ 3-2 win in Miami last week, battled some tough defense to reach his right leg out for a nice touch to Flores, who hammered home a shot into the lower left corner of the net, from the top of the box.
At that point it was a safe bet that home squad would win, not only with the visitors having yet to win away from home in their history, but with the Cosmos nearly undefeated (now 34-1-8) in their modern era (since 2013) when scoring first.
Jacksonville nearly tied the game in the 34th minute, but a great, jumping save from Maurer’s right hand, off of a corner kick and consecutive Armada headers kept New York in front.
Only two minutes later, forward Juan Arango flicked a nice header up the right wing, to Flores, who crossed a perfect pass for a Diosa finish to double the Cosmos’ lead.
“I just had to touch the ball, that’s all I had to do,” Diosa said. “It’s crazy because Andres assisted me last year, too, on my only goal, so it’s kind of funny [it was the same tonight]. It was a great ball. Our coaches always say to make runs in the box, because you never know what happens, and so I did.”
Some nervous moments suddenly arose for Cosmos fans, when Flores and Diosa — arguably the two who were playing the best of anyone during the match — were injured just two minutes apart, and had to leave, beginning with Flores getting hurt in the 64th minute.
Although it wasn’t the way Savarese wanted it, he insisted that the duo would have been subbed out soon thereafter, anyway.
“We had intended to make those substitutions,” Savarese said. “Unfortunately it had to [happen due to] injury. Diosa is fine, Flores, a little bit more tight in the muscle, but that was pretty much the plan [anyway] for us to make those substitutions.”
Later, Moffat’s goal, when he rocketed a hard shot into the upper left corner of the net, from just outside the box in the 79th minute, made everyone on the team breathe much easier.
“It was great,” Moffat said. “I felt good in the warmup before the game. I was hitting a few good ones. I felt like, ‘Today, I’m gonna get a good shot off,’ and I didn’t really get an opportunity. So when I finally had that one, I was like, ‘I’m just gonna hit this thing as hard as I could.’ It felt great coming off my foot and then [it went] right in the back of the net. I don’t think the keeper had much of a chance.
“It’s always good to score and it was an important goal as well. They were still in the game. All it takes is one goal and they’re right back in [it], so it was an important goal and it was good to get it.”
After Moffat’s score, the defending champion Cosmos (with two NASL titles in the past three years), who had struggled to close some games in the Spring Season and in giving away a late lead during their U.S. Open Cup loss last month, finished much stronger.
“Definitely, we talked about it,” Savarese said. “We knew how to manage the end of the game. It was a good performance [tonight] and I think all around, it was a complete match [for us].
“We can still improve upon that, but we felt, always in control of the match. Today, we were very mature, to be able to do that.”
Flores added, “That’s been a key for us in the past. I think we’ve lost a couple of good results for us because we hadn’t managed the [ends]of] games the way we had to. So we’ve been working on that a lot.
“We were very comfortable with the ball and we had the opportunities. The good thing is we got the [first two] goals really quick. So when you have that confidence and you have the possession of the ball… that was key for us.”
Diosa agreed, saying, “I think we’re starting to do that better… that’s what we need in order to get another championship.”
Although proud of his own accomplishments, Flores was more pleased with New York’s overall effort.
“I’m very happy ‘cuz of the goal and the assist, and because of the result, ‘cuz I was very excited when I knew that I was gonna play,” he said. “But overall, I think the team [played] a very good game.”
Told of Jacksonville’s inability to secure a road win of yet, Moffat said, “I was unaware of that. It’s probably just a matter of time for them [before they win on the road]. They’re a good team. It was 3-nil tonight but they’re dangerous… so I think it was good for us, kind of keeping them quiet.”
Moffat also noted Maurer’s big first-half stop, as well as an even more impressive, one-handed stoppage time save from close range, after Maurer was benched in New York’s prior two games.
“It’s huge for his confidence,” Moffat said of Maurer. “He’s, I think, the best goalkeeper in the league and he’s shown that over the last few years, and he’s only getting better… so I think it was great for him. That save at the end was incredible. I thought for sure, they were scoring that.”
Candidly discussing his time off, Maurer admitted, “Any time I’m not in the lineup, it hurts, it pisses me off. It motivates [me]. A good buddy of mine said once, ‘You get paid to train and the games are your bonuses.’”
Staying ready in that way is a continual, roster-wide theme which has kept the Cosmos as often the league’s best and most consistent team under Savarese since he began his tenure as New York’s head coach three years ago.
Pointing to a tough three-game road trip which starts on Saturday, and which includes another Wednesday night fixture, Savarese said, “This is a very difficult schedule, so we need everybody.”
In addition to staying ready, New York is approaching that portion of the slate and rest of the season with the right mindset.
“In the locker room, we’re saying, ‘Three down, but 19 to go [in the Fall Season],’” Maurer said. “It’s a good start, but we’ve got to keep it as confidence and not turn it into arrogance, and not get too casual.”
So far, so good, especially when even your goalkeeper is a sudden scoring threat.