Preview: New York Cosmos at Fort Lauderdale Strikers

IMAGE, STEVE HAMLIN/COSMOS COUNTRY PODCAST

by JAKE NUTTING

As the only team to play through all its Spring Season matches without a week off, the New York Cosmos now have the advantage of controlling their title hopes in their final match of the short ten-game sprint.

All the Cosmos need to repeat as Spring Season champions and secure the first spot in the NASL’s postseason tournament is three points against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.

The Strikers won’t be pushovers, though. After a rough start to the year, the South Florida side is now unbeaten in its last four league matches, outscoring the opposition 7-3 in that stretch. Most recently, the Strikers delivered a 2-1 defeat to Ottawa Fury FC last week in Canada.

Like the Cosmos, the Strikers are coming off a midweek win in the U.S. Open Cup. However, they had to play out their full match in the afternoon sun and humidity of South Florida, requiring extra time and penalties to get by their opponent. The more arduous conditions of their match could give the Cosmos an edge in fitness this weekend.

The Cosmos will have to overcome their underwhelming road form, which has seen them post three losses and only one win this year.


Match Information:

Saturday, June 4, 7 p.m. ET at Lockhart Stadium

TV/Streaming: ONE World Sports, oneworldsports.com

Referee: Nima Saghafi

Last Meeting: The Cosmos rallied from a early deficit in last year’s semi-final round of The Championship to dismiss the Strikers 2-1 at MCU Park in Brooklyn.


Cosmos attack vs. Strikers defense

The biggest thing going for Fort Lauderdale’s defensive unit at the moment is keeper Diego Restrepo. He’s firmly established himself as the number one choice after four weeks of outstanding play in which he’s allowed three goals, but has also prevented many sure-fire ones. If he’s on his game, Restrepo can shut out the best attack the NASL has to offer.

The Cosmos will be without Yasmani Duk as a result of the Copa America, but Jairo Arrieta should be enough to challenge Fort Lauderdale’s back line. Despite being steady in recent weeks, their defenders are prone to mistakes, the kind that a veteran like Arrieta can exploit. Arrieta should also be more than fresh for Saturday, having sat out the last league match and Wednesday Open Cup match.

Slight Advantage: Cosmos


Strikers attack vs Cosmos defense

Diego Restrepo may be catching fire in the final weeks of the spring, but New York’s Jimmy Maurer has been resolute throughout the entire competition. He leads all NASL keepers with five clean sheets and a goals against average of 0.5. The Cosmos will need another big week from Maurer to stem the Strikers, who will look to pounce on fast counter attack chances when they arise.

Maicon Santos has proven many of the naysayers about his ability to stay healthy wrong this spring. The Brazilian leads the Strikers with four goals after only missing one match. His fitness shouldn’t be a major concern this weekend, as he only came on as a late substitute in the team’s Open Cup win. Santos’s combination of size and technical ability could be a mismatch for the usual center back duo, Carlos Mendes and Jimmy Ockford.

Advantage: Cosmos


Midfields

After being sidelined with an ankle injury early in the spring, Ruben Bover is catching up quickly with all the minutes he can handle thanks to New York’s busy schedule. The midfielder hasn’t lost a step, though, and has already brought the energy and ability that people have come to expect from him. He partners well with whomever he slots next to in the midfield, raising their level in the process.

Fort Lauderdale’s quick rise in form has much to do with the injection of former FC Dallas attacker Ramon Nunez, who has adjusted quite well to life in the NASL. With a game-winning goal and three assist already under his belt through six appearances, Nunez is definitely a player the Cosmos will be need to be weary of on Saturday.

Advantage: Cosmos


Coaches

No one will ever accuse Caio Zanardi of taking a lackadaisical approach to coaching. The Brazilian was thrown out of one match two weeks ago for badgering the referee and he’s come dangerously close to being ejected in other matches for the same reason. Results are hard to ignore, though, and Zanardi clearly has the Strikers playing with confidence and zeal in recent weeks. Gio Savarese has balanced numerous absences and losses on the roster remarkably well in an unforgiving spring, where every single result has had a serious impact on the title picture. Expect Savarese to have his team well prepared to cross the finish line and clinch their second straight spring title.

Advantage: Cosmos


X-Factor

The grass surface at Lockhart Stadium has seen far better days. A dispute between the team and local officials about who should pay for maintenance at the stadium has left the field to turn into more of a sand patch than a suitable soccer field. This could disrupt the possession and quick passing style New York likes to utilize.


Prediction: 2-1 Cosmos