Tampa Bay Sports Day

Back in the Race: Senna’s Bender Ends Cosmos Skid at 2 as Minnesota Loses First

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — The New York Cosmos were once again dominating play with nothing to show for it on the scoreboard.

Then, just as he had done before, veteran midfielder Marcos Senna stepped up when New York (3-2, nine points) needed it most.

The crafty Spaniard — who scored the lone goal during the second half of the Cosmos’ 2013 Socer Bowl win in November — patiently controlled a long corner kick from defenseman Hunter Freeman just outside the box and brilliantly bent a right-footed shot between a pair of Minnesota United defenders, and into the bottom left corner of the net, in the 61st minute, to give New York a 1-0 Monday Night Futbol victory before 3,091 fans at Hofstra University’s James M. Shuart Stadium.

Senna’s goal was the Cosmos’ first since their previous win (1-0, at home, over Edmonton, in Week 2). While the tally ended New York’s scoreless streak at 294 consecutive minutes, it more importantly stopped a two-game losing skid for a club that only lost once last fall.

The score also handed the first loss of the spring season to Minnesota (4-1), which entered the match as the last remaining undefeated team of the current North American Soccer League campaign.

“It’s a talent I have,” Senna said in describing his bending game-winner through an interpreter. “It’s not exactly the first time I scored a goal like that. It was good to score and support my team.”

Head coach Giovanni Savarese said of Senna’s shot, “He executed that perfectly.” Instead of trailing the United by nine points, the Cosmos moved into a third-place tie with San Antonio, just three points behind Minnesota, which fell to second place, behind the Fort Lauderdale Strikers at the top of the NASL table, with weeks to go in an abbreviated nine-week spring season.

The United and Strikers could break their first-place tie when they meet in Minnesota next week.

“We were very aware that this game was fundamental for us to strive toward the title for the spring,” Senna said. Goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer, who faced only four shots (all in the second half), including just two on goal, put his team’s win in perspective, saying, “Every game’s important, but obviously when [we’re] playing a team that could have gone nine points ahead of us, it would have been really tough to come back from that, for sure.”

Despite controlling play for much of the first half, while outshooting the United, 7-0, while putting three shots on net, the Cosmos were turned aside until Senna finally broke though.

Defenseman Hunter Freeman fired a shot from inside the box just wide of the left post in the 13th minute. Thirteen minutes later, Senna set up Norwegian forward Paulo Mendes with a nice crossing pass from inside the box, but Mendes barely missed on a header near the right post.

Two minutes after that, defenseman Ayoze blasted a low shot from the right side of the box that was stopped by goalkeeper Matt VanOekel (five saves).

Just before the end of the half, a pass to forward Mads Stokkelien (who matched Senna’s game-high three shots) deep in box was controlled for a moment, but Stokkelien (one of eight different Cosmos to attempt a shot) was quickly covered and he couldn’t get a shot off in the 45th minute.

In the second half, speedy midfielder Jemal Johnson (who later left the match with a hamstring injury, after teammate Diomar Diaz did the same in the 29th minute) made a nice crossing pass to Stokkelien, who narrowly missed on a header past the left post, on the best scoring chance of the game to that point. But Senna’s goal came only two minutes later, as New York (which outshot Minnesota, 13-4) wasn’t deterred by staying scoreless through several missed opportunities.

“We have learned from past games to maintain that patience and to keep going for it until that goal comes, which it did,” Senna said.

With music playing a celebratory locker room, Maurer praised Senna’s goal and his game, in general. “It shows how good he is,” Maurer said. “That guy is just unbelievable. And he’s not just a guy who’s going to play a pretty game. Some of the headers he wins… he’s 37 years old, and he’s dominating [much younger] guys in the air. He’s just an absolute beast. He’s just an incredible, incredible player.”

Untested for most of the match, Maurer came up big himself, as the United finally applied some pressure in the final minutes. “I’m that I could make the saves… when I had to,” said Maurer, whose second of two saves was a nice stop on the Minnesota’s best chance, after forward Mackenzie Pridham’s crossing pass set up forward Christian Ramirez for a point blank shot from the middle of the box in the 88th minute.

Prior to four minutes of stoppage time, in the 90th minute, midfielder Jamie Watson blasted a hard shot from the right side of the box a little over the crossbar.

Even with the United’s ability to attack and create chances late, Savarase was pleased to see his team — which has allowed a league-low two goals this spring — post its third shutout of the season. “The guys did a great job defensively,” Savarese said.

And he was especially happy to get another win after facing the type of adversity that New York hadn’t since Savarese became the Cosmos’ head coach last season.

“I think sometimes it’s important to be able to shake [things up] and wake up,” Savarese said of New York losing its prior two games. “We knew that it was a very important game. I’m very proud [of] the guys because they worked very hard today to [get] a very big win.”

Next week, though could be tougher, particularly if Diaz and Johnson are not able to play.

At first look, Savarese said Diaz’s condition is worse. “Diomar, unfortunately, pulled his hamstring… but it doesn’t look very good… Jemal… I think we just have to manage it during the week.”

Each player will be hoping to help the Cosmos get by the six-place Tampa Bay Rowdies (1-1-3) on the road next Saturday night.