NASL Spring Finale Recap: Cosmos Take Title, Rowdies Dominant at Home, more

IMAGE, NEW YORK COSMOS

by JAKE NUTTING
NASL Beat Writer

It didn’t come in quite the fashion that the team or its supporters hoped for, but Saturday’s 3-3 draw was enough to earn the New York Cosmos the 2014 NASL Spring Championship and one of the top two seeds in the playoffs. The Spring trophy will be placed on the mantle next to the Cosmos’ Fall and Soccer Bowl trophies from 2013, along with their five NASL titles from the original incarnation of the league.

While the Cosmos took the Spring with an undefeated record, the Tampa Bay Rowdies finished the short 10-game season only one point behind in second place. If not for late game heroics from New York to steal draws in the final moments in Minnesota and Carolina, the Rowdies easily could have been the ones lifting a trophy.

New York Cosmos 3-3 Jacksonville Armada FC

It wasn’t a typical Cosmos performance on Saturday night, but in the end, a draw was all the team needed to claim their first spring championship.

New York was aggressive from the onset and capitalized after only six minutes when striker Raúl caught keeper Miguel Gallardo cheating off his line and lifted a hopeful ball on the frame. Raúl was denied by the cross bar, but the rebound bounced off a scrambling Gallardo and into the net. The Cosmos doubled the lead in the 26th minute when Danny Szetela delivered a ball to Hagop Chirishian behind the Armada line. Chirishian tapped the ball over the incoming Gallardo and then calmly finished the sequence.

With an early lead and the title seemingly in the bag, the Cosmos began to fade and allow Jacksonville to settle into the match. After some sustained build up, the visitors were able to equalize through speedy attacker Pascal Millien. The Haitian international struck first in the 59th minute by dribbling through several defenders and slotting the ball under keeper Jimmy Maurer. Millien got the equalizer in the 73th minute when he stripped Szetela of the ball just outside the box and slipped another by Maurer.

Lucky Mkosana gave the Cosmos the lead again when he put a slick touch on a ball from David Diosa that fell between the Armada back line and Gallardo. The tally was Mkosana’s third this year.

Jacksonville’s Joseph Toby pulled another back just before stoppage time by converting a corner with a stunning volley, but the winning goal eluded the expansion side and the Cosmos got to lift the spring trophy in front of their supporters.

Indy Eleven 3-0 FC Edmonton

Things have shifted drastically for both Edmonton and Indy in the past three weeks of the Spring Season. The potent attack of Edmonton has been stymied on the last three outings, scoring only one goal and losing their league-leading goal status to the Cosmos. In that same stretch, Indy has scored seven in their last three matches after recording only five goals in their previous seven matches.

Indy was able to run rampant on a seemingly fatigued Eddies squad that was without star winger Lance Laing due to international duty. After numerous chances throughout the opening 45, Indy scored two quick goals in the dying minutes. Brian Brown notched his second goal of the year on a low-driven shot from 25 yards and then Dylan Mares converted a penalty in the 44th minute after keeper John Smits took down forward Brad Ring.

Hoping to stop the bleeding, Head Coach Colin Miller replaced Smits and midfielder Hanson Boakai with Matt Van Oekel and Christian Raudales. Edmonton’s fate was sealed in the 67th minute when Raudales received a straight red for an errant elbow. Indy twisted the knife once more when Duke Lacroix nabbed his first professional goal in the 82nd minute.

Tampa Bay Rowdies 3-0 Atlanta Silverbacks

With the match in New York out of their hands, the Rowdies went into Saturday only able to control how much they scored and how little Atlanta scored.

They got what they were hoping for and handily defeated the visiting Silverbacks for their fourth straight win at home this year.

Head coach Thomas Rongen chose to stick with the hot hand and start virtually the same starting lineup that soundly beat the Eddies last week. The only exception was center back Stefan Antonijevic, who slotted back into his role after serving his red card suspension. Leading scorer Maicon Santos and the NASL assist leader Georgi Hristov, though, were left on the bench after serving their suspensions.

Atlanta had come close to scoring first in the 56th minute when Shaka Bangura fired one by keeper Matt Pickens that bounced off the crossbar and far post. The Rowdies, though, were the better team throughout the match and took advantage in the 60th minute when Darwin Espinal penetrated the box and chipped a ball to Corey Hertzog on the near post that the forward somehow managed to redirect into the net with his chest.

Midfielder Martin Nunez doubled the lead in the 75th minute with a looping free kick that left keeper Steward Ceus frozen in his tracks. Hristov would come off the bench late and convert a penalty earned by forward Robert Hernandez in the 89th minute.

Fort Lauderdale Strikers 3-2 Minnesota United FC

Fort Lauderdale played spoiler once again in their first trip up to Minnesota since knocking the Loons out of the playoffs last year. This time the South Florida side crashed the farewell party of Minnesota’s Miguel Ibarra as he heads off to Club León in Liga MX.

Ibarra got on the scoresheet by converting a penalty in the 18th minute, but not before Fort Lauderdale’s Stefano Pinho corralled a loose ball at the top of the box and beat keeper Mitch Hildebrandt.

The Loons took the lead in the 38th minute off a curling ball from Keith Venegas in the corner that Aaron Pitchkolan blasted into the net with a header.

Just as in the last two matches, a late collapse would undo all the good work done by Minnesota. Forward Jose Angulo got a header of his own in the 79th minute and Pinho got his second of the night only two minutes later by beating Cristiano Dias to a dangerous through ball.

Minnesota would get a late surge after Angulo received a red card in the 84th minute, but keeper Josh Ford was able to skillfully deny what looked like sure goals from Christian Ramirez and Justin Davis in the dying moments. The loss leaves preseason favorite Minnesota in fourth place, behind Carolina on tiebreakers.

San Antonio Scorpions 0-0 Ottawa Fury FC

It’s hard to come up with a more sure bet than Ottawa participating in a scoreless draw. Some kind of dark magic always seems to infect whatever team they’re up against, no matter how dangerous the attack. Fury FC has held opponents scoreless in their last five matches and four of those ended 0-0.

Saturday’s latest scoreless affair was a midfield battle where neither team could cause much havoc in the final third. The league’s leading scorer Omar Cummings was nullified for the entire match as keeper Romuald Peiser was able to comfortably record his sixth clean sheet of the spring. Cummings only came close in stoppage time when he rifled a shot that just missed the top corner of the net.