HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — To the defending NASL champion New York Cosmos, merely settling for a 1-1 draw with the last-place, expansion Indy Eleven felt like a loss at Hofstra University’s Shuart Stadium on Saturday night.
“The sensation is like we lost,” said veteran leader Marcos Senna, who made the very rare mistake of having a ball stolen from him on a play that led to league’s only winless team scoring a late equalizer.
Goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer (two saves), who gave up the tying goal to midfielder Brad Ring in the 76th minute, agreed. “It definitely feels like a loss… you’re giving up points,” Maurer said. “First of all, it’s at home, second of all you’re leading [for most of] the game [and] they don’t really have a lot of chances. We didn’t play well.”
Forward Sebastian Guenzatti, after putting New York (4-2-1, 13 points) in front, 1-0, on a beautiful strike from just outside the box in the fourth minute, later felt the same way. “We should have showed a lot more on the field,” he said. “We didn’t play our best game.”
Head coach Giovanni Savarese said, “A hundred percent,” on whether the draw felt like a defeat. “It’s disappointing because I think the tie was on us,” he added. “We want to come on top in this Spring season and it was important for us to get a win at home… so it definitely feels like a loss.”
In that regard, failing to beat the league’s only winless team left the Cosmos in no worse position than when they started the night, since first-place Minnesota (16 points) also played to tie (0-0) at home against Carolina.
Meanwhile, Fort Lauderdale (12 points) blew a 2-0 lead in Tampa Bay and lost, 3-2, allowing San Antonio (which beat Ottawa by the same score) to move into a second-place tie with New York, with just two weeks remaining in the Spring season.
At the moment, the Cosmos have a league-best goal-differential (the first league tiebreaker) of plus-seven, with Minnesota at plus-six and San Antonio at plus-three. The Spring champion will gain automatic entry into the 2014 playoffs, with the three remaining spots to be decided over an 18-game Fall season schedule for each of the NASL’s 10 clubs.
Early on, it looked as though New York would be too much for Indy (0-4-3) to handle, especially after a first half in which the Cosmos outshot the Eleven, 11-0, with seven different New York players attempting shots.
Midfielder Paulo Mendes (game-high three shots, all in the first half) had the first chance just three minutes into the match, but he barely missed outside the right post from close range.
About a minute later, though, forward Mads Stokkelien rolled a nice pass to Guenzatti, who sailed a shot toward the upper right corner of the net, before it lodged in between the netting and the back post. While the result of that goal should have ignited the Cosmos’ offense, Savarese felt it gave his squad a false sense of security.
Although Savarese said his players “came into the game with the right mentality,” he added, “I think the fact that we were too successful [early] allowed our players to relax a little bit . That didn’t allow us to be as compact as we were last week (when New York won in Tampa Bay, 3-0).”
Guenzatti noted, “I think if we would have got that second goal, the game practically would have been over. But that’s how it is. You don’t score, you get scored on. After the first goal, we kind of dropped [our intensity] a little. We gave them too much respect, and at the end, it ended up costing us.”
Even though the Cosmos held the ball for 59 percent of the match, after possessing it for 52 percent of the time in the opening half, their dominating first-half advantage in shots turned into a 6-4 edge in shots for Indy after intermission.
“We relaxed a little bit and you just can’t do that at the professional level,” Maurer said. Before that, New York had its chances.
Mendes put a header off a crossing pass on the outside of the netting, just outside right post in the 14th minute. In the 38th minutes, a Mendes pass set up midfielder David Diosa nicely, but defender David Stone broke up the play in front of the goal.
One minute later, Mendes took a pass from Guenzatti in the box, but goalkeeper Kristian Nicht (six saves) came way out near the edge of box to stop him.
As play evened out a lot more after that, Indy began to create some of its own opportunities.
Forward Mike Ambersley sent a ball into the box where only midfielder Corby Moore and forward Ben Spencer were in the area, but before either of them could try to tie the match, Maurer came out to snag the ball out of the air in the 43rd minute.
Later, a corner kick hung around in the box for a bit, in the 71st minute, before the Cosmos were able to clear the ball.
Midfielder Walter Ramirez seemed poised to move the Eleven ahead in the 85th minute after receiving a pass within from forward Don Smart just a few yards from Mauer, but a hustling Guenzatti stole the ball from behind to the game tied.
Nine minutes before that, Ring cleverly took the ball from Senna in New York’s end and made a quick run up the right side before firing a low shot that was deflecting just enough by defenseman Roversio to throw Maurer off.
“It was a low, hard shot,” Maurer said. “It was going back post, so I went for it there, but it hit off [ Roversio ] and it went back in the air, so I was already caught diving. It was just an unlucky goal… to give up a goal off a bad deflection like that, it’s just unlucky.”
Ring’s goal — only the third given up by the Cosmos this spring (easily the fewest allowed in the league) — was the type of chance that worried Savarese.
“We said at halftime that this was a team that if we allow them to grow and we give them space, eventually they were going to find a way to score a goal,” he said. “That’s what we should have done better — closing the space, being a little bit more organized, a little bit more savvy.”
Defenseman and team captain gave New York one last good chance in the 88th minute when he played a ball in the box for forward Alessandro Noselli (who came on for Paulo Mendes in the 69th minute), but Nicht made a nice diving catch.
Maurer said the Cosmos’ biggest issues permeated all lines, especially with passing.
“We just weren’t connecting passes,” he said. “From me, to… every level, we just weren’t connecting like we can. We can play a lot better than that… we all know there’s a lot of things everyone of us can do a lot better than we did tonight.”
One loss, although potentially a costly one, didn’t deter the Cosmos’ belief that they could repeat as season champions, as they prepare for a quick turnaround on Wednesday night, against the semi-pro Brooklyn Italians, in the third round of U.S. Open Cup, before resuming NASL play in Fort Lauderdale next week.
“We still have two [Spring league] games and we still haven’t lost hope [on winning the Spring season title],” Senna said. “We’ve got to keep going, look forward and we’ll see [how we do] in the next few games,”Guenzatti added. “We’ll keep our heads up and keep working.”
On needing some help over the final two weeks of the NASL Spring season, Maurer said on that and looking beyond, “We’ve got to worry about ourselves first. If we get the results we need, then everything else takes care of itself whether it’s the spring or the full year.”
Wednesday night’s match will be the Cosmos’ first in the 80-team, 101st annual edition of the U.S. Open Cup, which includes teams from Brooklyn’s level up to MLS teams.
Fighting for a Spring league title, New York seemed to prefer that the tournament would come between the Spring and Fall seasons, but collectively, maintained a positive attitude about playing in the tournament as scheduled.
“We cannot hope [for] things that are not manageable,” said Savarese, who views the match against Brooklyn with little preparation time as a chance to learn more about the depth of his roster.
“We just have to manage things that are in front of us regarding using the right players,” he said. “We knew that it was going to be a tough week… we’ll see what kind of players we have, the character of the team. We’re taking [the match] very, very seriously.”
On that note, Maurer said he and his teammates take their cues from Savarese.
“Everything we play in, we want to win, whether it’s the [NASL], the [U.S.] Cup, a friendly,” Maurer said. “It’s the way Gio preaches to us and that what we buy into. So, obviously, we want to go as far as we can in the Cup.” But win or lose against Brooklyn, the Cosmos’ focus will quickly turn to the brief time left to capture the NASL Spring title.