Tampa Bay Sports Day

Got Their Number: Late Goal Extends Cosmos’ Streak Over Atlanta

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — Give the Atlanta Silverbacks credit this time, but record yet another loss to the New York Cosmos.

With several reasons to pack it in against the defending NASL champions, Atlanta (3-5-2, Fall Season) showed a lot of fight in rallying from a disastrous start and seemed destined to break its losing streak to the defending NASL champions.

Playing under both a light rain and the mental burden of having never beaten the Cosmos (4-3-4, Fall) — including an embarrassing defeat during their last visit to New York — the Silverbacks dug a stunning two-goal hole before the 4,502 in attendance had time to dry off their seats at Hofstra University’s James M. Shuart Stadium Saturday night.

Yet after Atlanta came back to tie the match, 2-2, midfielder Danny Szetela scored from inside the box in the 84th minute to give the Cosmos a thrilling 3-2 victory.

Falling to 0-5-1 against New York all-time, Atlanta dropped its fifth straight match to the Cosmos, a stretch that includes stinging home defeats (1-0 in the 2013 Soccer Bowl; and a 2-1 loss after leading 1-0 and waiting through a 3½-hour weather delay five weeks ago) and suffering a 4-0 road pasting in the Spring Season opener, in April.

Szetela’s goal not only provided the difference, but it also marked the most goals New York scored during the Fall Season, while providing the Cosmos’ highest tallies in 12 games overall and in eight home contests (each dating back to the Spring Season).

New York also ran its unbeaten streak to a season-high four straight games (2-0-2) while winning for the second consecutive time (each at home), after starting the Fall campaign winless (0-2-2) over its first four matches at Hofstra.

Jumping on the Silverbacks early reminded head coach Giovanni Savarese of the way things used to be, long before the several times the Cosmos had dominated in 2014, only to yield a lack of goals and disappointing final results.

After seeing New York net five goals in its past two games, particularly the way Szetela and forward Hans Denissen worked together to produce the game-winner, Savarese said, “We got a little bit of a feeling of last year… to be able to resolve and get a goal, and believe, that’s a good feeling for the team to have. But we’ve got to continue working.”

Savarese was proud of his team’s willingness to sacrifice for each other, especially the way Szetela and Denissen did so to pull out a big win.

“I wasn’t sure if Hans was going to take it or not, but I called him off,” Seztela said in describing his goal which started with a pass from the right wing from substitute forward Jemal Johnson. “.I just took the shot and maybe I missed it a little bit but… the turf was wet, and it found the [lower left] corner of the net.”

Before that goal, the Cosmos responsible for New York’s previous two scores — forwards Mads Stokkelien and Sebastian Guenzatti — were in a tight race to receive the Man of the Match vote, which is requested from the media during the 83rd minute during at each Cosmos home game.

But once Szetela (who took a game-high four shots) broke the tie one minute later, the votes were recalled and recast for him.

His response on stealing that honor from his teammates was a very humble one, as he instead focused on larger team goals.

“For me, it’s about winning and getting three points,” Szetela said. “Our goal still for this year is to win the Fall Season… and try to get to the Soccer Bowl again.”

Equally unassuming, Denissen — formerly one of the league’s top goal scorers (as a starter with San Antonio last year), but relegated to a smaller role with New York (due to a combination of injuries and depth on the Cosmos) — had no problem in once again doing the little things that it took to win, after entering the match in the 74th minute.

“I had to turn differently than I wanted to and then I saw another guy coming, so I had to go around him, and then I saw Danny coming. He called me off and he had the vision toward the goal.”

Denissen, who acknowledged that after previously undergoing knee surgery, he’ll need the same on his ankle next offseason, added, “As a starter or a sub… for me, it’s important to be effective for the team.”

That type of attitude, Savarese said, makes his job much easier. “As a coach, I love that,” he said. “It’s the work of the whole team that gets you [a good] result. Anybody that we throw in the game works hard, understands what [their] responsibilities are and does a good job.”

On Szetela, Savarese said, “Danny is a player that has grown [and] matured so much. [Tonight] was essential, to be able to find that ball that Denissen played back.”

Earlier, the Cosmos displayed other great teamwork to quickly put the Silverbacks on their heels.

Touching the ball for the first time, New York got the ball to defender Hunter Gorskie, who placed a beautiful right-wing crossing pass in the box, allowing Stokkelien to redirect the ball past goalkeeper Eric Ati (four saves) with a terrific volley off the back of his right heel, that put the Cosmos up, 1-0, after just 41 seconds.

Less than eight minutes later, midfielder David Diosa sent a nice cross from near the right sideline into the middle of the box where Guenzatti finished the play with a header to double New York’s lead to 2-0.

“Two great goals,” Savarese noted. “Things that we worked [on] in practice.”

In the 16th minute, team captain Carlos Mendes made an outstanding save in the box with his right leg, to block a close shot from forward Jamie Chavez, after backup goalkeeper Kyle Zobeck left the net.

However, Atlanta scored anyway, just seconds later, when New York was unable to clear a loose ball from the box.

Back in net, Zobeck (three saves) dove to his left to make a good stop on a close header by defender Edgar Espinoza. But the ball ricocheted off of the right post and stayed in the box. With the Cosmos unable to clear in time, midfielder Junior Sandoval poked the ball into the net to trim New York’s lead in half.

“Sometimes, you just can’t save them all,” said Zobeck, who found out he’d be starting the day before the match. “I thought I did pretty well to get to the first one. I pushed it off the post, and it just happened to find one of their players in front of the goal for him to tap it in. So what can you do?”

Zobeck was needed after an unexpected injury to regular starter Jimmy Mauer a few days earlier.

“He had a problem with his thumb,” Savarese said of Mauer. “In practice, he overstretched [his ligaments]. The doctors put him in a soft cast… but starting from next week, he [will be] ready to play again.”

Later in the opening half, after Zobeck did well to jump and grab a shot toward the upper right corner of the net in the 25th minute, Diosa did some nice work two minutes later, to get by a defender on the end line, and set up Stokkelien for a close, left footed shot that Ati stopped as he fell to his right.

Nine minutes after that, forward Danny Mwanga moved nicely through traffic to yield a left-footed strike from Szetela, which Ati needed to stop with a dive to his left.

Tempers began to flare with a crowd of players pushing and shoving along the sideline in the 40th minute of a match that featured five yellow cards, four for the Silverbacks.

Diosa picked up the Cosmos’ lone card (a yellow) in the 42ndminute for standing right up on Espinoza as he was trying to take a free kick on the Atlanta side of the field. Diosa was forced to leave the game for Johnson five minutes later after being hurt on a hard tackle just before halftime.

“It’s like a little rivalry building with Atlanta,” Szetela said. “They want to beat us. We’ve been beating them, but when they come to play [us], they play their hearts out.”

Continuing its strong play, New York (which held at final shot advantage of 17-10) took the first three shots of the second half to extend that edge to 11-3, but Atlanta attempted five of the next eight shots while getting back in the match.

“At the beginning, it looked like it was going to be an easier game, the way it started,” Savarese admitted. “I think that we became a little bit too comfortable after we found the two goals early.”

Szetela agreed. “You score two goals early and sometimes the mentality can drop a little bit,” he said. “I think maybe our mentality did drop, and that’s why Atlanta had possession sometimes… and had some opportunities. We have to make sure [in that situation] that in our minds, it’s 0-0 and we have to score another [goal].”

Still nursing a one-goal lead, disaster almost struck for Zobeck when he came out near the edge of the box and kicked the ball hard in an attempt clear. But it went off of Chavez’s shin and deflected dangerously over the net in the 49th minute.

Three minutes later, a Mwanga header bounced just wide of the left post off a Gorskie right-wing cross, and six minutes after that, a left-wing pass from Johnson led to a Stokkelien left-footed one-timer from 12 yards away going right at Ati.

Missing those chances haunted the Cosmos a minute later when a right-wing free kick by defender Ryan Roushandel from 25 yards out bounced off of Zobeck at the near post, and was gathered by midfielder Pablo Cruz, who rolled the loose ball into the net even the match in the 59th minute.

“It’s something I do right a million times,” Zobeck said. “It didn’t go right that time. They scored, but fortunately, my teammate had my back and pulled out a good win for us.”

Mwanga nearly had a good chance in the box after Stokkelien sent a deep right-wing pass to him in the 63rd minute, but the Atlanta defense was able to catch up in time and disallow a shot attempt.

Chavez nearly gave the Silverbacks the lead in the 78th minute, but he blasted one of the hardest shots of the game a little high and just to the right of the net.

Atlanta wouldn’t get a better chance than that the rest of the way, as New York defended will before and after Szetela’s goal came six minutes later.

Ultimately, not even the weather bothered the Cosmos as they continued their master over the Silverbacks.

“When the [turf] is wet it suits us because we’re a team that keeps possession and it’s easier for us to move the ball that way, ”Szetela said. “The rain was perfect.”

With the win, New York reached 16 points and tied Tampa Bay for third place in the Fall Season standings, six points behind first-place San Antonio. The Cosmos (10-5-5, 2014 Combined Table) also remained comfortably in the same position overall, for 2014, while moving to within four points of second-place San Antonio (39 points). The top four teams in the combined standings will qualify for the postseason.

“We knew this was a game that we needed to get three points at home, and we just had to keep fighting until the last minute,” Szetela said.

Adding to those thoughts, Savarese said, “We showed a lot of character to be able to win the game. [On] the goal that we scored at the end, I thought that the guys really battled… and at the end, we won a very, very, very important game.”

Back on track at home again, the Cosmos will hit the road for their next two games, in key games against the two clubs which are immediately behind New York in the Fall (Edmonton) and combined (Carolina) standings. The latter of those teams is up next on Saturday night, as the Cosmos seek their first win in Carolina, a place where they are 0-2.