Preview: Cosmos Host Carolina RailHawks

Arrieta Cosmos

by JAKE NUTTING

After running through the Spring Season unbeaten to claim the title last year, the New York Cosmos are feeling the cruel nature of the competition’s short ten-game format firsthand this year.

Heading into only their fifth match of the year, the Cosmos are already on the brink of seeing the spring title and the hosting rights for a postseason semifinal that comes along with it slip through their grasp. Heartbreaking stoppage time losses to Indy and Minnesota in back-to-back weeks means that the Cosmos must take the full three points at home this week against the Carolina RailHawks — the only team that has yet to drop a single point.

As their record would suggest, the RailHawks are firing on all cylinders. The injection of resources from new owner Steve Malik has given seasoned coach Colin Clarke much needed depth to operate with after years of competing with limited resources. The new signings have Carolina outshining their opposition on both sides of the ball and have even reinvigorated the returning core of players.


Match Information:

Sunday, May 1 at Shuart Stadium, 6 p.m. ET kickoff

TV/Streaming: ONE World Sports, oneworldsports.com

Referee:  Alex Chilowicz

2015 Series: 2W-1D-0L


Cosmos attack vs. Carolina’s defense

When they’re on, the Cosmos attack can make quick work of the best defensive units the NASL has to offer. The problem for the Cosmos, though, is their latest results suggest the new faces still need some time before they realize their full potential. Still, with the proper service and distribution from the midfield, Jairo Arrieta has shown he can perform at a high level in this league. The possibility of starting Bolivian international Yasmani Duk also offers the Cosmos a chance to insert more physicality up top. Arrieta had difficulty finding space when challenged by physical center backs on the road the last two weeks.

Carolina could be dealing with injuries to left back Paul Black and right back Drew Beckie, but so far the defenders coming off the bench have risen to the occasion and kept the RailHawks on top every week. Haitian international James Marcelin was signed for his prowess as a defensive midfielder, but he’s been outstanding filling in at center back. He’s done so well that Carolina might just keep him where he’s at for the time being.

Advantage: Push


Carolina’s attack vs. Cosmos defense

Former NASL Golden Boot winner Brian Shirver has been the lone striker for Carolina in every match so far, but he’s not the reason the team currently leads the league with nine goals. All the real production has come from the midfield. Regardless of whether they’re at home or on the road, the RailHawks love to throw numbers forward into their attack with the midfield.

Nazmi Albadawi has turned into a play-making machine in central midfield and currently leads the league with four assists. Winger Tiyi Shipalane remains one of the league’s most dynamic scoring threats with two goals under his belt, but it’s been Austin da Luz on the left side of the field that has stepped up his game in a big way. The midfielder has been ruthless in front of goal, tallying three goals to start out.

Really it’s been the clinical nature of Carolina’s attack that has seen them rise up the standings. They lead the league with a shot conversion rate of 26% and have put an impressive 60% of their total shots on frame.

Facing that kind of killer instinct should put the Cosmos back line on guard. They remained solid throughout most of the recent two matches, but switching off in the final moments cost them a draw in each encounter. A few opportunities on net could be all that Carolina needs to get a positive result.

Advantage: RailHawks


The Midfields

The previously mentioned attacking midfielders for Carolina are undoubtedly a huge advantage for the visitors in this area. The new-look Cosmos midfield has yet to show half the potency along the wings that Carolina has in a short span. Andres Flores, Niko Kranjcar, Sebastian Guenzatti, and Gabriel Farfan have all struggled to consistently aid in the attack, either with creating chances or taking opportunities of their own.

Holding midfielders Matt Watson and Alex Perez have gone unsung in Carolina’s winning streak, but they’ve played a big part in helping to break up the opposition’s attack. Gio Savarese has gone back and forth between starting a lone defensive midfielder or two. This weekend’s match up with the lethal RailHawks could call for a partner with regular starter Michael Lahoud. Adam Moffat is the most likely candidate, but Danny Szetela could be in the mix after being cleared to return from his preseason ankle injury.

If Sunday becomes a fast-paced affair, full of counter attacks, that would likely play right into the hands of Carolina’s swifter midfielder.

Advantage: RailHawks


The Coaches

Until these modern Cosmos actually lose three games in a row, confidence in Gio Savarse’s ability to make adjustments and motivate his players should remain strong. He’s proven time and time again that he can always push his team to rebound in quick fashion and get the result needed.

On the opposite bench is Colin Clarke, a coach who has already earned his stripes after several years in Carolina and in Puerto Rico before that. To his credit, Clarke has not fallen into the trap of overreaching with roster acquisitions that has befallen many NASL coaches when they receive increased investment from new owners. Clarke has spent shrewdly across his roster and already has his squad looking like a fine-tuned machine.

Advantage: Push


X-Factor

Carolina’s wing play can carry them a long way in the standings, but it can also hinder them in certain situations. The narrower field at Shuart Stadium can potentially eliminate much of the threat that Shipalane and da Luz offer on the flanks.


Prediction: 2-2