Ledesma Clinches Postseason Berth for Cosmos

Ledesma netted three to lift the Cosmos to their fifth straight postseason appearance. Photo by NASL

Cosmos logoBROOKLYN, N.Y. — For the fifth year in a row, the New York Cosmos will play postseason soccer.

New York got the necessary win to clinch the fourth and final spot in the North American Soccer League postseason in Saturday’s regular-season finale on the back of attacker Emmanuel Ledesma, who bagged a hat trick and an assist in the second half to propel the team to 5-2 victory over Puerto Rico on special night at MCU Park.

Although the Cosmos’ season will carry on for at least one week, Saturday’s match in Coney Island will likely be captain Carlos Mendes’ final outing in front of the home supporters. The Mineola, N.Y., native is set to retire at season’s end.

“I’m very pleased that in a difficult year we have been able to make the playoffs,’ Cosmos Coach Giovanni Savarese said. “The attitude today was fantastic. Our second half was probably one of the best ones we’ve had all year. The spirit of the team was great today and we couldn’t have done better to retire, at least from home, Carlos Mendes, on this beautiful night.”

The visitors held the slight edge over the Cosmos in the first 45 minutes, keeping the home side pinned down in its defensive end for most of the half. Puerto Rico came closest to netting an opening goal in the 23rd minute when Emery Welshman directed an acrobatic overhead kick onto frame only to have it deflected over the bar by Dejan Jakovic.

After a scoreless first half, it took Puerto Rico just three minutes to find the back of the net after the break. A poor turnover from midfielder Juan Guerra gifted Welshman with a breakaway into the box. Jakovic lunged toward the ball at the top of the box, but Welshman pushed the ball past the sliding center back with a deft touch and calmly chipped a shot over Jimmy Maurer‘s shoulder to put the visitor’s ahead.

“That’s why this team like to drive the coach very crazy,” Savarese said. “It’s never an easy match, so today it was similar. When they turn it up, they’re capable of doing the things they did in the second half.”

The Cosmos were not down for long as Ledesma tallied three in the span of 16 minutes

Ledesma’s first in the 51st minute was the most stunning of the bunch. Andrés Flores offered the set up, laying a pass back for Ledesma that he controlled outside the box and then rocketed into the top left corner.

The Argentine then deposited another into the bottom left corner only five minutes later. Defender Jake Stovall draped Ledesma with both arms from behind in the box, yet the attacker elected to stay on his feet and glanced the inside of the far post with a lethal strike.

Regaining the lead proved pivotal. Around the time of Ledesma’s second, the Jacksonville Armada pulled in front of the San Francisco Deltas across the country. The Armada went on to win the match, 2-0. If the Cosmos had not rallied to take all three points against Puerto Rico, Jacksonville would be the one celebrating a postseason berth.

Ledesma completed his hat trick through an opportunistic breakaway. Stovall appeared to have a hopeful header forward from Eugene Starikov covered until Ledesma stepped in to swipe the ball away and charge into the box before chipping a shot past keeper Austin Pack.

“Ledesma appeared in the second half in the moments that we needed him,’ Savarese said. “We saw his class in the three goals that he scored because they were three goals that were top class. He gave us so much up front.”

To ensure he didn’t take spotlight off Mendes entirely in the captain’s swan song at home, Ledesma spread the wealth with a nice assist in the 75th minute. Mendes beat his mark to near post to get on the end of a cross from Ledesma out on the left wing.

The sequence was Mendes’ first goal in more than two years.

“The most important thing is we won and secured a spot in the playoffs. That was the goal,” Mendes said. “Obviously it was an emotional night for me. It was a great ball in and I kinda beat him to that front zone. You’re either gonna meet it perfectly or miss completely. Luckily I just timed it well. A special goal, but again it was a great ball and a great team effort overall today.”

Welshman grabbed a consolation goal for Puerto Rico and substitute Lucky Mkosana got on the scoresheet with a strike deep into stoppage time, but New York’s lead never seemed in doubt following Ledesma’s burst.

For the moment the Cosmos hold the third seed in the postseason. They are one point ahead of North Carolina, which will play its finale Sunday at Indy Eleven. A point is all North Carolina needs to regain the third spot at is has a significant lead in the goal differential tiebreaker. The third seed will face the Deltas next weekend, while the fourth seed will take on Miami.