New York Cosmos at Atlanta Silverbacks

IMAGE, NY COSMOS

by JAKE NUTTING

The New York Cosmos (24 pts Fall, 44 pts Combined) and Atlanta Silverbacks (23, 31) will finish their regular season series with a Wednesday night match on Atlanta’s home turf after just battling to a 1-1 draw at Shuart Stadium on Sunday.

Sustained defensive pressure by the Silverbacks whenever the ball approached their defensive end flummoxed the Cosmos attack and the home side was only able to scrape out the draw thanks to an own goal from defender Simon Mensing.

The Cosmos cannot afford to continue their ho-hum form this week as they will play two of their four remaining regular season matches. The club is officially out of the running for the Fall Season title but still has an outside shot at the top spot in the combined standings. Finishing in the top combined spot would secure home field advantage throughout the playoffs, but the Cosmos will need to catch both Ottawa (37, 48) and Minnesota (32, 46) to do so.

Beating the Bunker Mentality: Gio Savarese stated after Sunday’s draw that the team is struggling to find ways to break through in the final third. The Cosmos are not responding well to opponents continually putting large numbers behind the ball and closing down space. Only one of the club’s three goals in the past three matches was scored outright from open play. The other two were a penalty and an own goal. Fall signing Gaston Cellerino has failed to find his finishing touch thus far and Lucky Mkosana has been shutout in six straight matches. The desperation to return to consistent scoring could spell a start or substitute appearance for recent addition Kharlton Belmar. The forward is coming off a 12-goal season for Portland Timbers 2 in USL.

Possible Absences: Regular starters Andres Flores and Raul are questionable for the rematch with the Silverbacks. Flores, one of the few consistent midfield threats, could likely depart before the match to join El Salvador’s national team before Friday’s friendly against Haiti. Raul’s status has been put into doubt after he rolled his right ankle and had to exit Sunday’s match. The veteran could be held out considering the quick turnaround and with an important match with Edmonton looming on Sunday.

Set Piece Focus: Savarese was also quick to point out how the team’s marking on set pieces over the past two weeks have unnecessarily put them behind in matches they have otherwise dominated. A total breakdown on free kicks into the box against Ottawa and Atlanta did swing the tide in favor of those teams. Momentary lapses in marking from the back line are exactly what most opponents in the NASL are looking to exploit when they go up against the Cosmos. Limiting those moments are crucial as the attack continues to resolve its own issues.

X Factor: Atlanta held out Jaime Chavez (7 goals, 7 assists) out of the starting lineup on Sunday. He came on midway through the second half, so his well-rested legs could come in handy for the Silverbacks. Atlanta is more than likely to stick with their conservative approach, but Chavez might help the club if they decide to be more adventurous at home.