Cosmos Persevere Over Miami in Penalties, Advance to Final

Jimmy Maurer put in a 5-save shift and had two stops in penalties to lift the Cosmos past Miami in the championship semifinal. Photo by NASL.

nasl logoThe two highest-scoring teams in the North American Soccer League could not find the back of the net in 120 minutes of action on Sunday night at Riccardo Silva Stadium. In the end, seven rounds of penalties were needed for the New York Cosmos to prevail over the top seeded Miami FC and clinch their third straight trip to The Championship final.

Jimmy Maurer was the unquestioned hero for the Cosmos on the night, denying Miami’s high-powered attack with five saves and two pivotal penalty stops to send the Cosmos to next week’s final.

For much of the opening half, the hosts appeared to be biding their time, toying with the Cosmos as they looked for a goal. New York was shut out of the offensive third entirely as the NASL’s Spring and Fall Season winners controlled the tempo.

Miami had a golden opportunity to pull ahead in the 14th minute as Stefano Pinho found himself with yards of space on the left edge of New York’s box. Richie Ryan initiated the sequence with a nifty ball forward for Vincenzo Rennella, who played an equally excellent pass across goal for Pinho. The Brazilian lined up for a powerful volley, but sent it over the crossbar.

Apart from that early misstep on Pinho’s chance, the Cosmos did well to keep Miami from earning many quality scoring chances for the remainder of the half while not seeing much of the ball.

It took until the final minute before the break for Miami to truly test Maurer when Pinho released winger Dylan Mares into the final third following a turnover. Maurer was up for the one-on-one challenge, rushing off his line to close down Mares and parry away the strike.

Jaime Chávez offered a beautiful set-up pass to give Miami its next opportunity eight minutes into the second half. The attacker flicked a chip ahead to the top of the box that center back Dejan Jakovic mishandled, allowing it to roll toward Rennella, who poked a shot past Maurer that barely missed the far post.

Although the Cosmos began to hold the ball more in the second half, their only burst of offensive activity were two long-range efforts from Andrés Flores and Emmanuel Ledesma at the hour mark. Flores’ strike was hit with power but directly at Daniel Vega in net, while Ledesma’s attempt missed the bottom left corner by a foot.

Maurer was called on in the 73rd minute as Pinho again found space on the left side of the box. Pinho brilliantly controlled a delivery into the box, but Maurer made himself big to prevent the shot from getting past him. Substitute Ariel Martínez looked to find a go-ahead goal 10 minutes later only to have his chance snuffed out by a clutch sliding clearance from Maurer outside the box.

Eugene Starikov scored the Cosmos' winning penalty against Miami FC on Sunday.

Eugene Starikov scored the Cosmos’ winning penalty against Miami FC on Sunday.

Eugene Starikov aimed the grab the lead for New York eight minutes into extra time. Starikov combined well with substitute Lucky Mkosana to find a window of space inside the box and fire a shot between two defenders that clipped the far post to stay out of the net.

Miami regained its composure to produce one more effort on net in the 103rd minute. Pinho chipped a perfectly weighted pass from the left wing into the box for Blake Smith, who shook off Danny Szetela before seeing his shot denied by Maurer at the near post.

Maurer then set the tone for penalties with a terrific stop in the first round, diving to his right to wrap up Michel’s strike.

Both teams buried their attempts from the spot in the next three rounds, putting the pressure on Pinho to convert his in the fifth. He came through with an outstanding strike into the top right corner.

Juan Guerra still had a chance to seal the victory for New York. All he had to do was bury his penalty. Instead, the midfielder tried for a cute chip down the middle of the net that Vega was happy to smother.

Maurer, though, again bailed Guerra out and the Cosmos. After Hunter Freeman and Mkosana both converted in the sixth round, Maurer sprung to his right again to push Mason Trafford‘s attempt. Starikov then stepped up to convert the winning penalty with a well-placed shot.

The Cosmos will travel to face the San Francisco Deltas for the right to hoist the Soccer Bowl trophy next weekend.