NASL Semifinal Preview: Cosmos host Rayo OKC

IMAGE, RAYO OKC

by JAKE NUTTING

A first-place finish in both the Fall Season and Combined standings guaranteed the New York Cosmos home field advantage throughout The Championship, but expansion side Rayo OKC isn’t likely to fold under the pressure given their recent momentum.

The Cosmos carry a 19-match unbeaten run at home into this weekend’s postseason matchup at Shuart Stadium, while Rayo OKC enters the match on the back of winning five straight and finishing the regular season on a 10-match unbeaten streak.

One thing is for sure — someone’s impressive streak must come to an end this weekend in the knockout match.

The regular season series between the two sides was tight. New York held firm at home with a 1-0 win and 1-1 draw, but they suffered one of their worst defeats of the year in a 3-0 result in Oklahoma City back in July.


Match Information

Saturday, November 5 at 7 p.m. ET. Shuart Stadium

TV/Streaming: ONE World Sports, oneworldsports.com, ESPN3

Referee: Jose Carlos Rivero


Cosmos’ attack vs. Rayo OKC’s defense

Jairo Arrieta closed the year out well with two goals in his final two appearances, although both were technically tallied in a two-minute span at the close and start of each match. The Costa Rican struggled to consistently link up with his midfield, as did Yasmani Duk in the team’s season finale at Minnesota. Duk was making his return to the lineup after an extended absence from international duty. Lucky Mkosana should at the very least be back in the mix on Saturday after being held out of the gameday roster in the last four matches of the year.

Veterans Futty Danso and Sebastian Ibeagha are a formidable center back duo for any attack to go up against. With those two players anchoring the back line, Rayo OKC were able to record four clean sheets during their current 10-match unbeaten run and only allow multiple goals in one of those matches. The importance of Daniel Fernandes in net shouldn’t be neglected either. He finished with the third-most saves in the NASL (93).

Advantage: Push


Cosmos’ defense vs. Rayo OKC’s attack

Like the Cosmos, the bulk Rayo OKC’s offensive production comes out of the midfield. That doesn’t mean they are without credible threats up top, though. Star striker Gergios Samaras has had an underwhelming year based on his past standards, but he’s showed up in each meeting with the Cosmos and has two goals to show for it. Billy Forbes’ pace, physicality and quality skill on the ball also poses a threat to New York’s back line. Forbes’ tendency to operate down the left side should offer a tough test right back Ryan Richter.

Expect the Cosmos to go with their seasoned options in central defense. Captain Carlos Mendes made his return to the starting lineup in the season finale and the oft-injured Roversio was held out last week as a precautionary measure before the postseason. Experience could edge out the younger options of David Ochieng or Jimmy Ockforod when facing off with an attacker of Samaras’ pedigree. The heroics of Jimmy Maurer last week to secure the win could also bode well for the Cosmos as they start the postseason. When Maurer is playing with confidence, he has the potential to be one of the best in the NASL.

Advantage: Push


Midfields

With leading-scorer Michel acting as their focal point in the center, midfielders Richard Menjivar, Sebastian Velasquez and Yuma have rounded the unit into one of the best in the league. Despite his tendency to lose his cool with reckless challenges, Derek Boateng has been a boon to the midfield as a defensive force. Rayo OKC will hope that Boateng can disrupt the rhythm of New York’s midfielders.

Winning the midfield battle will be critical for the Cosmos. Fortunately, the central pair of Juan Arango and Ruben Bover finished off the year in good fashion. Arango especially was the one carrying the team on his back with both his finishing and distribution. The Cosmos also appear to have an edge out on the wings with the pace and technical abilities of internationals Yohandry Orozco and Andres Flores.

The match could come down to which team is able to neutralize the other side’s playmaker. If either Michel or Arango are shut down, scoring chances could be hard to come by for their team.

Slight Advantage: Cosmos


Coaches

It may feel like a bold statement, but Gio Savarese has put together his best season with the Cosmos. While he’s always ensured the team is one of the best in the NASL, this year’s campaign has seen them clinch first-place finishes in the fall and combined standings, narrowly miss out on the spring title by tiebreaker and set a new single-season record for points in the face of adversity. With just two matches separating the team from repeating as league champions, Savarese is likely to be on top of his game.

First-time head coach Gerard Nus is no slouch himself. The talent and competitiveness was always there for Rayo OKC, but in a short span of time Nus has given his players the belief and tools to go out and reach their potential.

Advantage: Cosmos


Notable

Hopefully there is no reason to take not of the referee on Saturday night, but Jose Carlos Rivero being set to helm the semifinal is hard to dismiss ahead of time. Rivero oversaw the feisty affair between the Cosmos and Rayo OKC that saw the expansion side receive three red cards back in the Spring Season.


Prediction: Cosmos 2-1


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