Championship Final Preview: New York Cosmos vs. Indy Eleven

IMAGE, NASL

by JAKE NUTTING

For the second straight year, the NASL’s championship final will come down to the league’s top two teams from the regular season.

After claiming the Fall Season championship and top spot in the combined standings, the New York Cosmos have earned the right to host the league’s marquee match against Indy Eleven, who finished second in the combined standings and edged out the Cosmos for the Spring Season crown through a tiebreaker on the final weekend.

The Cosmos enter the final seeking to claim their third Soccer Bowl trophy in the last four years and their first back-to-back championships in the modern era. Indy is hoping for their first ever league title to cap off an outstanding debut season for head coach Tim Hankinson after finishing in the bottom three of the combined table in their first two years of existence.


Match Information

Sunday, November 13 at 7 p.m. ET. Belson Stadium, Queens, NY.

TV: CBS Sports Network

Referee: Allen Chapman

Season Series: Cosmos 2-1 L, Cosmos 3-0 W, Cosmos 3-0 L

Projected Lineups:

Cosmos (4-1-4-1): Maurer – Richter, Mendes, Roversio, Ayoze – Moffat; Flores, Arango, Bover, Orozco – Arrieta

Indy (4-1-3-2): Busch – Franco, Falvey, Janicki, Vukovic – Ring; Smart, Ubiparipovic, Mares – Braun, Zayed


Cosmos’ attack vs. Indy’s defense

The Cosmos outscored every other team in the NASL, but their attacking unit might not be at full strength for the most important match of the year. Forward Lucky Mkosana is unlikely to play thanks to an injury suffered in the last month of the fall and Yasmani Duk could be away with the Bolivian national team for World Cup Qualifying, which would leave the Cosmos with Jairo Arrieta as the only available forward listed on the roster. The Cosmos are hopeful Duk can remain for the final, similar to Andres Flores’ decision to decline international duty for the final last year.

Indy’s defensive unit has had success shutting out Arrieta, who featured in two of the matches against Indy this year and came up empty each time. Captain Colin Falvey and his center back partner Greg Janicki are capable of neutralizing Arrieta with their physicality if the Cosmos can’t provide the attacker with the brand of service he needs to thrive. If Arrieta can’t get involved early, his habit of fading into the background could hurt the Cosmos.

Advantage: Push


Cosmos’ defense vs. Indy’s attack

It’s likely no coincidence that Indy’s two wins over the Cosmos this year both came with forward Justin Braun in the lineup. His relentless workrate up top keeps the opposing back line occupied throughout the match, freeing up space for leading scorer Eamon Zayed. Combined, Braun and Zayed have four goals and two assists against the Cosmos this year. Both forwards are over 6 ft tall, which makes them a serious threat on corners and free kicks.

The Cosmos have found a more comfortable defensive groove with veterans Carlos Mendes and Roversio starting together in central defense, allowing just four goals during their current seven-match unbeaten streak. A key to stopping Indy is limiting the amount of second-chance scoring opportunities. Zayed has picked up a reputation for pouncing on the smallest of windows in his first year. Indy’s proclivity to strike on the counter could also challenge New York’s more aged back line. Neither Ayoze, Mendes or Roversio are the fleetest of foot anymore.

Slight Advantage: Indy


Midfields

Two of the more discordant showings in the center of the field for the Cosmos this year occurred in the two losses to Indy, making a victory in this area of the field critical. Indy’s prefers to sit back and absorb, especially on the road, but a more proactive approach to disrupt New York’s buildup like Rayo OKC took for the first 30 minutes of last week’s semifinal might be more beneficial.

The wings could end up being vital, as both sides depend on dynamic play from the flanks to launch the attack. Yohandry Orozco looks to be in fine form and Andres Flores determined efforts on the right can create a number of scoring chances for the Cosmos. For Indy, Don Smart and Dylan Mares are focal points in Indy’s potent counter attack. Mares in particular is a hungry, young player with the potential to turn a match in Indy’s favor.

New York’s fate could come down to Juan Arango. The Venezuelan has been at the center of everything good for the Cosmos in recent weeks, scoring in four of their last five matches, including last week’s semifinal win in which he recorded a goal and an assist. His tendency to come through at any given moment makes him a tough challenge, but shutting him down should be a top priority for Indy.

Indy could have their own midfield difference-maker in Sinisa Ubiparipovic. The former Ottawa standout is fully fit after an injury-plagued year and is fresh off a spectacular game-winning goal in last week’s semifinal win. Ubiparipovic’s only appearance against the Cosmos this year was the commanding 3-0 win at home in the fall.

Advantage: Cosmos


Coaches

Tim Hankinson edged out Giovanni Savarese for NASL Coach of the Year honors earlier in the week, but both coaches would gladly take a win in the final over an award voted on by the media.

Savarese has faced his greatest adversity since the reboot in 2013 and has produced his most impressive season, smashing the single-season record for points set by his team last year. With star Juan Arango hitting his stride and the team’s veterans reaching full fitness, it’s hard to pick against Savarese.

Hankinson’s achievement of building a winning culture at Indy in just one year cannot be understated. Like Savarese, Hankinson constructed a team with a mixture of veteran leadership and eager young players that posted an unbeaten record at home. However, with only two wins away from home, Hankinson will have his work cut out this weekend.

Slight Advantage: Cosmos


Old Habits Die Hard

All three encounters between the Cosmos and Indy finished with a winner, but the overall history of the series over the last three years suggests it might take more than 90 minutes to decide Sunday’s final. Prior to this year, the two teams met six times and finished in a stalemate on each occasion. A draw won’t do in the final, though, meaning keeper’s Jon Busch and Jimmy Maurer could be thrust into the spotlight if penalties are needed. The only NASL final to finish with penalties was the two-leg championship in 2012 when the Tampa Bay Rowdies beat out Minnesota.


Predicition: Cosmos 2-1 in extra time


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