For Savarese, NASL Final a microcosm of the season

IMAGE, NY COSMOS

by JAKE NUTTING

If the story of last year’s championship run focused on sending the fabled Marcos Senna and Raul into retirement on a high note, this year’s tale will be remembered for the team’s resiliency in the face of setbacks and distractions.

When 120 minutes wasn’t enough to separate the Cosmos and Indy Eleven, the Cosmos did what champions do best: win. Burying four straight penalties, the Cosmos secured back-to-back NASL titles for the second time in their history and the first time in the modern era.

“I think the final was the example of the year that we have had,” Savarese said. “We never stopped to think about adversities or the situations. It’s always about solutions, and it was the same way today. Today was about trying to figure it out.”

With Lucky Mkosana out injured and Yasmani Duk away on international duty, Jairo Arrieta was left as the only true forward on the roster in a match crying out for an offensive boost. Further complicating matters for Gio Savarese was center back Roversio picking up another in a long list of injuries to take him out of the match in the 60th minute.

It’s the eighth time overall, and the third in the last four years, that the Cosmos have gotten their hands on the coveted Soccer Bowl trophy. Captain Carlos Mendes has been front and center for each of those modern titles.

“Looking back now, you’re proud of three in four years, but every year is a new challenge and this one is just as nice as the first one,” he said.

New York rode into 2016 boasting one their deepest squads ever. As it turned out, they needed to rely on every bit of that depth to achieve their goals. The first hit of the year for the Cosmos came when high-profile midfielder Niko Kranjčar was sidelined with a groin injury before the Spring Season was even concluded and then promptly departed for Rangers in Scotland when it did.

Shortly after, the Cosmos lost Michael Lahoud and Gabriel Farfan to Miami FC in quick succession when the expansion side exploited Farfan’s expiring loan contract and paid a transfer fee to Lahoud’s parent club Philadelphia Union. Longtime Cosmos defender Hunter Freeman then exited for South Florida in a surprising transfer as the home stretch of the Fall Season was approaching.

Any one of these moves on their own can’t be classified as a disaster for a club with the depth of talent the Cosmos have, but it’s the accumulation of them all together that taxed the tax the players and coaching staff.

“It’s been unbelievable, and I think this year has been one of the toughest years, even though we had the best team, and maybe the best talent, this has been the craziest of years,” said keeper Jimmy Maurer. “It’s amazing. It just shows the strength, front to back, of the team and the technical staff with what we’ve been able to do this year.

“It was the hundreds of little things that happened this year that make lifting the trophy so much more special.”

In the end, the deciding moment of Sunday’s final came down to the foot of Ryan Richter — a player brought in at the final hour of the regular season to fill that defensive void left by Freeman.

Richter did not disappoint. When the moment came, he fired his penalty straight into the bottom left corner, once again showcasing Savarese as one of the best problem solvers and motivators in the business.

“You can make it work always when you have a group that are convinced, that are willing to work even when they can run no more there’s something inside of them that allows them to continue to go forward,” Savarese said. “A coach couldn’t be any more proud than what they did today.”