One vs. two. The best of the best in the NASL will be on display on Sunday in the league’s finale.
Both sides will enter the final match of 2016 already having won silverware this season; Indy Eleven won the Spring Season while the Cosmos won the Fall Season. New York will attempt to be the first club to win back to back Soccer Bowls in the NASL modern era while also collecting their third championship in four years.
The two clubs have faced off three times this season, with Indy Eleven winning twice and the Cosmos getting one back at home. Indy’s 2-1 win in the Spring Season would become the only difference between the sides to determine the NASL Spring title, as both clubs finished tied on points, goal differential, and total goals.
With New York and Indy already deciding a title in a head to head matchup this season, their second title decider has the promise to be even better.
The Championship Final Matchup
New York Cosmos (First Seed) vs. Indy Eleven (Second Seed), Sunday, 7 p.m., CBS Sports Network
The road here: Both the New York Cosmos and Indy Eleven have had nearly identical paths to The Championship this season. Both sides have won a regular season title, which automatically gave them a berth in the 2016 NASL Playoffs. Once in the postseason, Indy and New York fended off tough challenges from lesser seeds at home last weekend in the semifinals to advance to this week’s title match. Indy defeated FC Edmonton 1-0 in Indianapolis, while the Cosmos got past Rayo OKC with a game winner in the 90th minute of play from the foot of Yohandry Orozco.
New York is unbeaten in their last seven matches, including four victories in their last four matches.
Keys to the game: The home team has come out victorious in all three Indy vs. New York head to head matches this year, including two 3-0 wins. The Eleven will have to buck that trend if they want to lift the NASL’s most coveted hardware in Queens Sunday night, and containing New York’s Juan Arango and Jairo Arrieta will be key. While the Cosmos will be expected to hold the greater possession, Indy will have to make sure they don’t waste any chances that they muster on the counter.
Indy will have to weather the early storm, as an early Cosmos goal could open up the Eleven tactically and give even more space to the high powered New York attack. If Indy can hold down the fort early on they might be rewarded with chances of their own late on. The Eleven could take a page out of Rayo OKC’s book; scoring first in New York gives you the best chance of getting a result. Indy will have to hope their result is better than Rayo’s after last week’s gut wrenching elimination at Hofstra.
Players to watch: Eamon Zayed will be Indy’s main focus point in the attack, and his conversion rate might be what decides this title game. Zayed, who scored 15 regular season goals for Indy, has been on target three times against the Cosmos in both the Spring and Fall NASL seasons. Zayed broke multiple Indy Eleven scoring records this season, but as he said last week the ultimate title is the one that is achieved by a team and not an individual.
All eyes on New York’s side of things will be on Juan Arango. Since becoming NASL’s biggest addition last offseason Arango has gone on to score 15 regular season goals and seven assists. The Venezuelan also leads the league in chances created. Arango created 44 chance sin 29 appearances in the NASL this season, including 2 goals in the Cosmos’ 3-0 victory against Indy in the Fall Season. Arango was awarded the 2016 NASL Golden Ball this week, which is given to the league’s MVP.
Quote: “Playing for a championship, whether it’s the first or third … we’re excited,” said Cosmos captain Carlos Mendes. “It’s a big challenge ahead of us playing a good team. No. 1 against No. 2 … it’s nice to see the teams that were the most consistent all year playing in the championship game. Last game, they were the better team, and they deserved to win. We need to be much better if we want a chance to win the championship. For us, we have to focus on what we can control We’re still in front of our fans, and that’s most important. We know the field. It’s a nice field and a big field with room to play, and we need to take advantage.”
“We’re in the postseason and that’s what it’s all about,” Zayed said. “I’ve probably hit a lot of my targets, but my biggest target was to win this whole thing. I’ll gladly exchange any Golden Boot, any individual award, for a championship title.”