HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — After ending last season with consecutive 1-0 home losses to the New York Cosmos last fall — including a defeat in the 2013 Soccer Bowl — the Atlanta Silverbacks came to New York to start their Spring season with new uniforms, a new head coach and several key roster changes.
While some things were also new for the Cosmos (1-0-0, 3 points), they continued their mastery over the Silverbacks (0-1-0, 0 points) with a 4-0 thrashing of Atlanta in the teams’ Spring Season opener before 7,906 fans at Hofstra University’s James M. Shuart Stadium on Sunday.
What changed this time for New York — which ended last season with a 12-game unbeaten streak (including the Soccer Bowl) and its sixth NASL title — was the unlikely scoring outburst from defenseman and team captain Carlos Mendes and the fine goalkeeping of new starting goalie Jimmy Maurer.
Mendes, a native of nearby Mineola, New York, had just one goal (which he scored back in 2003, with the Rochester Rhinos) over a professional career dating back to 2002.
Yet he doubled that scoring output in a matter of just 15 minutes, putting the Cosmos up, 1-0, in the 23rd minute before extending New York’s lead to 3-0 on his second goal, in the 38th minute.
In between, defenseman Ayoze (one goal, one assist) scored in the 32nd minute, and in the second half, Norwegian forward Mads Stokkelien (one goal) closed the scoring in the 72nd minute with a header inside the left post making his Cosmos debut.
Meanwhile, following the departure of last year’s NASL Goalkeeper of the Year, Kyle Reynish, to the MLS’ Chicago Fire, former Silverbacks goalie (2008 — Under-23 team, and 2011) Jimmy Maurer (primarily an understudy to Reynish a year ago) had an impressive match stopping all 12 Atlanta shots on net (six in each half), including a stunning sequence in which he made a pair of brilliant saves seconds apart, with the game still scoreless in the 16th minute.
Four minutes after Maurer picked up his first yellow card as a Cosmo (in the 12th minute), the Georgia native came out near the edge of the box and made a brilliant kicks save with his right foot to deny forward Deon McCaulay.
That shot ricocheted to Maurer’s right, where forward Kwadwo Poku fired toward an empty net from straight away, but was stopped as Maurer down low and to his right for another great save.
“[McCaulay] tried to slip it low to the back post,” Maurer said of the sequence. “I got a foot on it… I was able to get across and save the second shot as well.”
Head coach Giovanni Savarese said of Maurer, “He had a great match. He showed today, why he had the trust of the organization.”
Earlier, Mendes commented, “They had a couple of opportunities and Jimmy came up big. He’s a great goalkeeper, so I think he’s going to be very good for us. We have all the confidence in him.”
Another nice diving stop was made by Maurer off of a header in the box in the 51st minute.
Although he was up for the challenge, the Lawrenceville, Georgia native admitted he had some nervousness going into the game.
“It’s pretty funny, coming against Atlanta, the club I started with [and my] hometown… there’s always butterflies, especially in a new season… you never know what it’s going to be until you step on the field for a league game.”
After Maurer kept the game scoreless early, Mendes shocked everyone by being the one to score the first goal.
Goalkeeper Derby Carrillo (who allowed all four goals while making seven saves) made a leaping defelction on a free kick by veteran midfielder Marcos Senna.
Mendes followed that up in front of the net by tapping the ball off of the near post and just over the goal line as he was falling down.
Nine minutes later, Stokkelien was blocked on a shot in the box off of a crossing pass from forward Sebastian Guenzatti (one assist), but the rebound came to Ayoze, who from the left side of the box, put a shot just inside the right post.
Six minutes after that, Ayoze chipped a corner kick into the box which Mendes deftly rolled into the net.
Humbly speaking more of his team than of his extremely rare scoring outburst, Mendes said, “I’m excited for the goals, but more importantly, the three points [in the standings, for winning] and the team performed well.”
Savarese noted, “Carlos, in the box is dangerous. [Last year] we saw that he had opportunities in which he was unlucky — [he hit] a couple of crossbars and posts, and today he was able to put a couple of balls inside the goal.
In the second half, Stokkelien nearly recorded a hat trick, as he almost tapped in a centering pass in the 80th minute and when Carrillo came too far out of the net six minute later, Stokkelien hit the post from a tough angle to the right, with defenseman Boby Reis standing on the goal line to clear the ball for Carrillo.
Gathering information on the new-look Silverbacks was a challenge for Savarese and his staff. “We used pictures on Instagram and what we could see of their practices on Twitter,” Savarese admitted.
That seemed to have worked out well given the final result.
However, what made Savarese’s squad into champions last season was that the Cosmos were never satisfied with any sort of success. Even after a rather easy season-opening win to follow their league title, that mentality didn’t change.
“It’s a good way to start the season and there’s room to improve,” Mendes said. “It was 4-0 but we could have done better.”
Maurer added, “It wasn’t a completely clean game. We know we can play better.”
Echoing those sentiments while reflecting on some minor roster enhancements made by New York, Savarese said, “I think that we are a much improved team this year but nevertheless, we still have to work in many areas to become stronger.”
Prior to the match, legendary former Cosmo Pele (now 73) stood on the field and held the trophy that New York won last fall, just as he did when his Cosmos earned the same symbol of NASL supremacy in the 1970s.
“It’s great when you have Pele around,” Savarese said. “He’s a constant reminder of the history of this club and the quality of the players that we’ve had in the past… I think our players have understood that from the beginning and they’re very committed to the club and they know that we’re building a new future.”
Trying to continue that, the Cosmos will travel to Edmonton (0-0-1) for their next match on Saturday night.