by JAKE NUTTING
The final scoresheet of Saturday’s NASL championship suggests that the battle to lift this year’s Soccer Bowl trophy was a close one.
But numbers can be misleading.
The New York Cosmos thoroughly controlled the match in front of a home crowd of 10,166, riding a Gaston Cellerino hat trick to take their second Soccer Bowl trophy in three years, beating the Ottawa Fury 3-2.
Cellerino emerged as the unlikely hero with a hat trick to lift his side over Ottawa Fury FC as the Canadian side netted two goals from only three shots in the match.
It was a nervy opening minutes for the Cosmos as Ottawa enjoyed sustained pressure deep in the home side’s defensive third throughout the first five minutes. However, the Cosmos survived those uncomfortable minutes as the Fury squandered the advantage and failed to put a shot on frame.
The Cosmos were not as careless as their opposition when they earned their first foray into the Fury defensive end. Midfielder Danny Szetela stood tall despite an impending boot to the face to slip a pass to Cellerino. The forward used his massive frame to fight off a swarm of Fury defenders inside the box before rifling a low shot to the far post to best Romuald Peiser and give the Cosmos an early lead.
The typically composed Canadian side was left completely stunned by Cellerino’s strong individual effort and preceded to have a number of gaffes when trying to clear the ball from danger. The goal gave the Cosmos a burst of confidence and they used it to totally dominate the Fury in the middle of the field. Szetela and fellow holding midfielder Marcos Senna were forces to be reckoned with, repelling Ottawa’s attack and holding them to a single shot in the first 45 minutes.
Continuing his trend of playing in a more advanced attacking role, Raul nearly helped Cellerino double the lead in the 19th minute. The striker displayed the sublime touch that has made him a world class player throughout his career when he perfectly one-timed a bouncing ball into space for Cellerino, but the attacker pulled his shot a foot wide of the post.
Ottawa answered back a minute later with a rather tame long range shot from captain Richie Ryan that keeper Jimmy Maurer easily scooped up. With the Cosmos midfielder suffocating them at the outset of every attack, Ryan’s shot was the only one that the visitors could muster in the opening half.
The Fury’s listless performance continued on into the first stages of the second half and the Cosmos nearly made them pay for it. Winger Walter Restrepo whipped in a quick cross in the opening seconds that an unmarked Cellerino lifted well over the bar.
In spite of dominating the play, the Cosmos struggled to find more quality chances in the final third. A controversial call denied them from extending their lead on their next promising opportunity in the 67th minute. A corner fell to Cellerino at the back post and the forward converted the tap in, but the goal was waived off as Peiser was knocked down away from the ball while coming out to clear.
The high stakes match finally blew open in a furious five-minute stretch that saw a player sent off and two breakneck goals. Ottawa defender Masson Trafford kicked things off in the 67th minute with a vicious stomp on a defenseless Szetela to earn himself a straight red card. It was the first red card Ottawa had received since the opening week of the season.
The Fury, though, showed some fight after going down and capitalized on their second scoring chance of the night when the Cosmos back line parted to allow Andrew Wiedeman to find a wide open Tom Heinemann, who beat Maurer to the near post.
New York responded only three minutes later to recapture the lead. Restrepo displayed his characteristic flair on the ball near the endline and chipped a hopeful ball that whizzed over the head of Peiser toward the back post. An Ottawa defender rushed in to clear the ball away, but his clearance deflected off the well positioned Cellerino to find the back of the net.
The match became a midfield battle again after the hectic stretch until Cellerino, yet again, broke through in the 85th minute and notched what would be the decisive goal of the night. In his final major contribution as a player, Raul sprung the forward behind the back line with a brilliant ball. Cellerino took his time charging at Peiser before calmly picking his spot of the far post to seal it.
A scary moment arose for the Cosmos in the first of four stoppage time minutes when a 10-man Ottawa pulled one back thanks to a deft volley from Heinemann.
Ultimately, Heinemann’s brace was not enough to keep his team in it and the Fury’s championship hopes flamed out when the final whistle blew to award the Cosmos their second Soccer Bowl trophy in only three modern era seasons.