HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — The New York Cosmos, on Saturday night, continued much of what they normally had done while having a lot of success in their return to the North American Soccer League — everything except score goals, that is.
Despite controlling the ball for 57 percent of the match with the San Antonio Scorpions (2-1, 6 points), having 71 of the contest’s 89 attacks (including 41 of 50 dangerous attacks), taking 21 of the game’s 26 shots and attempting 12 of the match’s 13 corner kicks, the Cosmos (2-1, 6 points) fell, 1-0, while having several team or league streaks stopped at Hofstra University’s James M. Shuart Stadium.
After forward Danny Barrera fired a hard shot from inside box that was saved by goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer, French forward Eric Hassli alertly headed in the rebound into the net in 15th minute for the lone goal.
The score stopped a shutout streak of 372 minutes for New York, dating back to last season, a stretch that broke Tampa Bay’s previous modern-day NASL record of 359 minutes (set in 2012). Counting last year’s Soccer Bowl victory (the Cosmos’ record sixth NASL title and their first since rejoining the league last year), the streak had reached 462 minutes.
Ironically, San Antonio was the last club to score against New York, in a 2-1 home defeat to the Cosmos exactly half a year earlier, on October 26.
That New York win came toward the end of a 14-game unbeaten streak that stretched into this season, during which the Cosmos went 11-0-3, with their only loss last fall occurring in Carolina on August 17.
Unblemished (5-0-2) at home last season, and in a 4-0 win over the Atlanta Silverbacks (during a rematch of last season’s Soccer Bowl) in this year’s season opener, the Cosmos lost at Hofstra for the first time ever during the regular season, over a span of 25 non-playoff games there.
New York went 6-0-1 at Hofstra in 1972 (during the team’s second year of existence) and 6-0-3 the following year. The Cosmos lost their only postseason game at Hofstra, to the Atlanta Chiefs, in 1971.
San Antonio, which opened with a 2-0 home loss to first-place Minnesota, before beating each of last year’s Soccer Bowl participants on the road, in successive weeks, pulled into a second-place tie with New York and Fort Lauderdale, one-third of the way into an abbreviated nine-game Spring season.
Once the Scorpions took an early lead, the basically stopped attacking and “parked the bus,” as Maurer said, referring to San Antonio’s tactic of placing as many players as it could back on defense, especially in front of its own goal.
When asked if there should be a rule change to prevent that strategy (something along the line of the NBA’s defensive three-second rule), Maurer said, “No, I’m a traditionalist… so I wouldn’t want to change anything.”
On his team dominating the play, but not being able to come up with any goals, especially after the Cosmos had so late in close matches last year, Maurer added, “That’s just soccer. Sometimes, you work, you do all the right things, and sometimes you’re just not going to get the bounce. It’s just the way the game goes… eventually, that’ll even out.”
Despite laying back, the Scorpions nearly doubled their lead when a 30-yard free kick by forward Walter Restrepo sailed over Maurer and glanced off the crossbar in the 55th minute.
Earlier, forward Mads Stokkelien, who singlehandedly matched San Antonio while leading New York with five shots, barely missed on a hard strike from the left of the box, to the right of the far post, in the 44th minute.
Later, midfielder Danny Szetela attempted fired a hard shot from the left, low and to the right, but goalkeeper David Bingham made one of his five saves by diving down and to his left.
Two minutes after that, forward Jemal Johnson (who along with defenseman Hunter Freeman, had four shots) just missed from the edge of the right box, putting a ball inches to the right of the near post and onto the outside of the netting.
Perhaps a bit surprisingly, head coach Giovanni Savarese was happier with his team’s play than in the Cosmos’ easy win to start the Spring campaign.
“I leave this game with a better feeling than I had when we won 4-0 (over Atlanta on April 13) because we played good soccer [tonight]. We were very good. We just needed to be a little bit more aggressive inside the box… I think if we played this game nine times more, I don’t think the result [would be] the same… if it’s a game we win [2-1 or] 3-1, we’d be talking about how well we played.”
Still, Savarese noted some missed opportunities offensively.
“I think we could have been more mobile on top,” he said. “I think we needed to be a little more patient to get them wider and be a little bit more savvy in some of the situations… they were able to push us out.”
Someone who might have helped Savarese’s offense was Dutch forward Hans Denissen, who was one of the league’s top scorers with 12 goals for the Scorpions last fall, before he was signed by the Cosmos in the offseason. Denissen remained ineligible with an injury and has yet to see his first action for New York.
Although the loss ended the Cosmos’ success for the short term, the defending champions remain positive that they’ll get back on track, as Savarese pointed to the similar timing of New York’s only defeat last fall.
“The season is short but I think we’re still in a good situation,” he said. “Some teams, I think, are still going to give some points away. Last year, we lost our third game [of the season]. Today, we lost our third game, and we were still able to come back strong [last fall] and win the championship.”
Standing in the middle of the home locker room after the match, Freeman added, “It’s disappointing, for sure, but we have a lot of confidence in this room… we have a tough match away (next week), against Carolina.
“I know the guys will be up for it because that’s [only] team we lost to last year. And I know [Carolina] lost today, pretty bad (4-0, at first-year club Ottawa), so I know they’ll be ready to give us a pretty good shot. So, no better place to go than where we had a bad memory… and get back to the wining ways that we’re used to.”