Are you ready for some futbol?
The New York Cosmos are facing a six pointer Monday night against first place Minnesota United.
Yes, Monday night.
These are the hardships of playing tenant in a College campus, but right now, scheduling is the least of the Cosmos worries. New York are not only riding a two game losing streak (the first in their modern era), but they have also not scored a single goal in a stunning 233 minutes despite their offensive offseason overhaul.
The chances have been there. The finishing hasn’t. Worst of all? It won’t get any easier. Minnesota is second only to the Cosmos in defense, allowing a miniscule three goals through four games. Led by Tiago and former MLS veteran Aaron Pitchkolan, Minnesota has taken a team-first mentality to their defense.
But it isn’t just the defense that’s clicking. Like the Cosmos, former Metrostars player and current Loons boss Manny Lagos is spreading the wealth on offense. Christian Ramirez leads the club with three goals, but is hardly the focal point of the team’s attack. The scoring is spread out amongst six players; five of which have scored just a single goal on the season.
Translation? The Cosmos need to gameplan for an entire unit, not just a single player.
Here is what to look our for:
WHO WANTS TO SCORE A GOAL?
NASL players and owners were vocally disturbed by the Cosmos acquisition of striking talents Hans Denissen and Norwegian dynamo Mads Stokkelien during the offseason.
So far, neither has been able to light up the scoreboard. Granted, New York understood Denissen would be an injured commodity to start the year, but hoped Stokkelien would be able to be enough to keep defenses honest until his arrival.
That hasn’t happened. Instead, Stokkelien has fallen short as teams have stacked their backline, choking out lanes and limiting the Norwegian to half chances. Meanwhile, other contributors have failed to find their 2013 form. Diomar Diaz has looked shy on the wings. Sebastian Guenzatti still excites, but his inability to keep his cool has cost New York again in this shortened season.
Carlos Mendes leads the team in scoring. That just isn’t good enough.
Minnesota will not be a cake walk. Someone needs to lead that front line. Who will be up for the challenge?
IMPROVING THE WING PLAY
With Guenzatti down, the Cosmos will need leaders to step up on the wings. They have the tools for it. Whether they can execute is a different story.
The aforementioned Diomar Diaz will be key in that turnaround, as will Jemal Johnson. Both players provide a key skill that cannot be taught: speed. Likewise, both players need to sharpen their ability in the final third in order to turn half chances into goals.
Stokkelien will, of course, be key in that. Drawing defenders away from the center can give the young striker enough area to exploit the visiting Loons. His strike partner, whether it be Noselli or Dimitrov, can also play a vital role in the secondary.
None of that will be possible, however, without a strong wing. The team is far too narrow, and United will expose that.
THE HEALTH OF SENNA
The reason the team is so centrally focused is Marcos Senna. Even at 37 years of age, he is perhaps a top five midfielder, not only in the NASL, but all of American soccer.
His health, therefore, is vital to the Cosmos prospects. The Spanish international trained all week, and showed no effects of the strain that forced him out at the half against Carolina. That is good news for New York. They will certainly have their hands full against a stout Minnesota midfield. Miguel Ibarra and Christian Ramirez may be the best 1-2 punch in the NASL today. Senna and Szetela will be key in slowing their efforts.
If this seems like a weekly concern, it should. New York are coming off of their worst attendance of the modern era, and Monday will certainly make that record seem like small potatoes.
Also, these are the Cosmos; their troubles, as much as their successes, will always be magnified.
Attendance will be sparse for this rare Monday fixture. That is a given – and not necessarily a reflection on the team. For the players, that means finding the ability to self-motivate in an environment that may leave something to be desired.