By DAN KARELL
In the New York Cosmos biggest test of the season, the squad showed plenty of heart, determination, and skill on the way to an impressive comeback victory.
Trailing 3-1 at halftime, the Cosmos scored three successive goals in the second half, the last a beautiful free kick by Marcos Senna, to defeat the Tampa Bay Rowdies, 4-3, on Sunday evening at James Shuart Stadium in front of 6,518 fans. The victory keeps the Cosmos firmly on their own in first place in the NASL, while the result leaves the Rowdies with their first loss of the season.
“I believe in this team,” Cosmos head coach Giovanni Savarese said after the match. “Every game that they have played, all the way till the end (of the game), always fighting to try to get more and more. And they believed what we said, that they could win, which is a great quality that our players have.”
After an inauspicious start, the Rowdies were the first to record a goal, thanks to the quick feet of Luke Mulholland. The Englishman’s teammate Lucky Mkosana, did very well to hold up the play, allowing for Mulholland to finish in the 20th minute and take the lead. It was his seventh goal of the season.
Three minutes later, the Cosmos struck right back. A free kick taken by Marcos Senna was eventually made it’s way to the feet of Stefan Dimitrov, who took a close-range shot that was saved by Rowdies goalkeeper Diego Restrepo. The rebound though fell right to Peri Marosevic, scoring his second goal of the season as the Cosmos tied the match, though he had to wait a few nervous moments to make sure the referee saw it cross the line.
“It was a scrap goal really in the box, it’s kind of how I scored my first goal too, but I’ll take any goal,” Marosevic said. “I just made sure I would try to get the rebound from the goalkeeper. (Dimitrov) got a great shot off of it and I knew the goalkeeper wasn’t going to be able to hold it, so I just made sure to get in front of (the goalkeeper), I saw the ball pop out, and I put it in the back.
“As soon as I hit it I knew it was across the line, I just wanted to make sure the ref confirmed it.”
The rest of the first half continued to look pretty even, if not in the Cosmos favor, but they were made to pay for two risky goalkeeping decisions by Kyle Reynish. In the 34th minute, Georgi Hristov scored his 12th of the season, beating his mark and finishing past the onrushing Reynish. The Rowdies went up 3-1 before the end of the half when Mkosana chipped Reynish at the top of the box, to the delight of the visiting support at Shuart Stadium.
At halftime, the Cosmos received what could only be called an inspirational team-talk from Savarese, and it reinvigorated the side for the second 45 minutes, in which they were clearly the better team.
“We’re not losing this game, it’s as simple as that,” Marosevic said. “(Savarese) just said for us to stay positive, have each others backs, and we’re going to win this game, there’s no doubts about it. And you know what? He was right.
“We came together and we never let up from the first whistle of the second half and we just went at (the Rowdies).”
In the second half, the Cosmos came out with more energy, pressing high up the field and dominating possession. The attacking nous was so strong that the Cosmos earned eight corner kicks in the final half alone.
The Cosmos finally capitalized on a chance when Paulo Mendes, making just his second appearance of the season, Followed up on a pass he made that ended up back at his feet before slotting home to cut the deficit to one in the 63rd minute.
In a two-minute stretch, the Cosmos did the unthinkable at one point and came back to tie the match and then take the lead. Diomar Diaz, last week’s Cosmos hero, dribbled through on goal in the 80th minute and scored to tie the game, setting off wild celebrations. No more than 120 seconds later, Senna expertly curled home a corner kick to bring the Cosmos ahead, 4-3, setting off more celebrations throughout the stadium.
“I was very confident (that I could score),” Senna said. “In fact, Ayoze had the ball, but I told him to leave it for me because I was pretty sure that I could get a goal.”
In the final moments, the Cosmos quickly changed their attacking posture to keep the ball away from the Rowdies, as they passed the ball around before the final whistle blew.
The result pushes the Cosmos to 18 points from nine games, four points ahead in first place of the Rowdies, Carolina RailHawks, and Minnesota United, who are all tied on 14 points in second place. Savarese after the game said that the will and desire of the players to score made all the difference.
“They have the will to score the goals,” Savarese said. “They have the desire to be a winning team, and everybody on the team has that desire. Whoever steps on the field, and we can say as an example, somebody like Paulo Mendes, who hasn’t been playing, hasn’t been in the 18s, played an excellent game last week and today he scored a goal, I think one of the most important goals to put the game 3-2 (at the time).
“So the desire is there. They believe in themselves and what they want – and they want to win a game – to produce the type of goals that they were able to produce today.”
Here are the game highlights: