Preview: New York Cosmos host Tampa Bay Rowdies

IMAGE, NYCOSMOS.COM

by ANTHONY J. MERCED
Staff Writer

Tampa Bay makes its first and last trip to New York this season as the Cosmos look for the one elusive point that will guarantee a third place finish in the combined 2014 standings.

In fact, a New York win combined with a San Antonio loss still gives the team a chance at second place. That kind of result could turn what has been a roller coaster half season into a realistic chance to host their first NASL Championship.

All of this starts with a game that means far more to New York than to Tampa. Although the Rowdies are already eliminated from the playoffs, this old NASL rivalry could be enough to produce an inspired performance.

A Captain-less Cosmos Will Need to Stay Focused

Carlos Mendes doesn’t miss many matches. His presence and defensive effectiveness are just two of the reasons why the Cosmos made the veteran their captain. His hard work has also been the reason why New York hasn’t lost in four games. Unfortunately, his red card from the Minnesota game will have him sitting in the stands as opposed to battling on the field. Combined with Danny Szetela’s suspension from yellow card accumulation, and an ailing Jimmy Ockford and Roversio, New York will be playing extremely short-handed.

Head coach Giovanni Savarese will be looking to his bench for three points as players will look to prove their worth heading into the playoffs. Should the Cosmos manage to find a strong defensive footing, it may influence the choices against either San Antonio or Minnesota in the coming weeks.

There is also the spectre of Connor Lade’s absence to take into consideration. Lade rounded himself into great form on the Cosmos and seemed poised to be a constant fixture with the team heading into the playoffs. As reported earlier in the week, a verbal agreement between the Cosmos and Red Bulls was broken and Lade returned to his MLS club to score a goal in this week’s CCL fixture. That form was no doubt brought on by his playing time in the NASL and in a week where so many players are missing, he will surely be missed.

Past Results Show Troubling Signs For Both Teams

It may have been one year ago but Tampa Bay rolled into New York and took at 3-1 lead into halftime during a memorable match at Hofstra.. That game would see the Cosmos fire back and win in a rare goal scoring storm. Lead by Marcos Senna, the Rowdies were outclassed and sent home with the loss. In the Spring Season, New York downed the Rowdies at Al Lang Stadium 3-0 only to have Tampa flip the script and win 3-1 earlier this season.

If history means anything, it proves just how erratic this fixture has become.

The Cosmos haven’t surrendered two goals in a single game since their 5-4 loss in Carolina and hope to continue that trend. That game was also their last defeat, proving that despite what many have suggested, New York is entering the post-season in good form. Still, this game on Saturday is a tipping point. The Rowdies will almost certainly be looking to spoil the Cosmos’ aspirations at a finish higher up the table and have shown an affinity for being pesky when playing teams above them.

Denissen is the Sleeping Giant

By this point last season, Hans Denissen was putting the finishing touches on a career year. Sixteen goals in forty-six games was good enough for second best in the NASL. His move to the Cosmos was seen as the missing piece to the equation. Injuries and confidence have kept Denissen from being a full time starter but his appearances have shown sparks of what the Cosmos had hoped he would produce. While he hasn’t produced a goal in his eight appearances, the Dutch striker has slowly looked to be the best threat the Cosmos have. Not only could he be the goal scorer the team has sought, but his passing has been part of what Mads Stokkelien has missed all year.

A competition for the second striker spot is certainly heating up between Denissen and Mwanga. Should he show flashes of last year’s brilliance against Tampa Bay, Denissen could make it extremely difficult for Savarese to keep him out of the lineup.