Alhassan Salvages a Point for Cosmos

New York's Irvin Herrera takes on North Carolina's Christian Ibeagha

By JAKE NUTTING

Cosmos logoFresh off the embarrassment of allowing Edmonton to tally four goals at MCU Park on Wednesday, the New York Cosmos responded on Saturday with a more determined performance at home against North Carolina. As improved as they were, though, the Cosmos could only earn a point through a late equalizer from Kalif Alhassan.

“Today we can see that the two games before were heavy on us and we were tired,” Cosmos Coach Giovanni Savarese said. “I have to look at the positive sides and the fact that we’re playing good soccer. We look more like the Cosmos we want to be. I think it’s been a positive week. Of course the results have not been ideal.”

New York’s afternoon started brilliantly thanks to attacker Irvin Herrera. The Salvadorean put the Cosmos (4-2-5, 17 points) up seven minutes into the match, burying his second attempt from the left edge of the six-yard box after miscuing his first try at goal.

Billy Schuler answered for the visitors four minutes later. Cosmos keeper Jimmy Maurer punched a corner kick to his near post out of the area and it fell for Schuler, who was waiting to blast the ball into the top-right corner with a deadly volley.

The Cosmos benefited from North Carolina (4-4-3, 15) losing the veteran holding midfielder James Marcelin to injury early on in the match. Herrera was a strong force for the Cosmos up top, as well. His distribution set Ayoze up with a shot that barely missed sneaking inside the near post in the 13th minute. He also picked off a North Carolina defender in the 29th minute to spark a counter that culminated with Eugene Starikov sending a just wide of goal.

A few minutes before Starikov’s miss, he and Herrera combined to find the back of the net but were denied by a disputed offside flag. Keeper Bryan Sylvestre got his fingertips on a forceful ball to the far post from Startikov, but the deflection fell for Herrera to tap across the line. Despite Herrera appearing to be even with the last man as Starikov shot, Referee Rubiel Vazquez waved off the goal.

Just as the first half looked set to end all square, the Cosmos gifted North Carolina a free kick just outside the box in the center of the field. Winger Lance Laing stepped up and crushed the dead ball past the wall and Maurer to give his team a lead seconds before the break.

“As soon as the foul came, we knew it could be a goal,” Savarese said. “For us, the most important thing was to keep composure, which we did. We came in to the second half with the same style, the same mentality, moving the ball around. I thought today the guys showed composure and maturity.”

The Cosmos did not appear deflated by falling behind at home again. They continued to ramp up pressure in North Carolina’s defensive end, though the finishing touch eluded them until Alhassan came through in the final 10 minutes. Alhassan entered the match at the hour mark, but he finally made his impact as he lifted a cross over the outstretched hands of Sylvestre after collecting a cross from Andrés Flores.

Avoiding a second loss at home this week is a positive, but the Cosmos began the busy week believing they had a strong chance at catching Miami FC in the Spring Season title race. Falling to Edmonton and only managing draws in two matches with North Carolina, the Cosmos are acknowledging they have weaknesses that need to be addressed.

“I don’t know that we were super overconfident in the locker room about our run of results before, but this week definitely reaffirms that we gotta keep working,” Maurer said. “We’ve been playing well, getting some results, playing much better than we did in the beginning of the season. These two games hurt us a lot and we gotta get a lot better, that’s for sure.”

The Cosmos are back at MCU Park on Friday for their third straight match, facing last-place Puerto Rico FC.