The Cosmos currently sit top of the table. They do not control their own destiny. With only two games remaining in their season and Minnesota and Indy just two points behind them with a game in hand, it will be crucial for them to win in their final home match of the spring against an expansion side that has surprisingly found success as a road team.
With seven games played, Rayo sits in eighth place (2-2-3) with eight points and a goal differential of -1. With three of those games played on the road, Rayo has two wins and a draw to their credit. They’ve scored five goals, allowed three and posted a shutout on the road and will most likely employ a 4-3-3 formation.
Starting from the back, keeper Daniel Fernandes is one of two on the official roster and has experience in the NASL playing under current coach Alen Marcina on the San Antonio Scorpions last year. He’s posted two shutouts and given up ten goals in their seven games so far for a 1.43 GAA
A great deal of the relative success experienced by Rayo also comes from the consistency and work of their back line. The pairing of Juanan and Futty Danso at center back has done well for the expansion side. Danso, an NASL veteran who spent last season with the RailHawks is joined in the back by right back Kosuke Kimura, who joined from the Silverbacks last year, and Moises Hernandez on the left, a loan from FC Dallas who joined mid-season.
Key parts litter their midfield, as well. Captain Michel is constant threat, particularly on set pieces and leads the team, and league, with five goals. Derek Boateng and his World Cup experience, consistently takes the center midfielder role and will be a key part of the potential midfield battle we could see this Saturday. That third spot will most likely be occupied by by either Pecka, or Sebastian Velasquez, formerly with NYCFC.
The attacking corps of Rayo can also be a threat, although there is a little more uncertainty about what happens up here. Georgios Samaras is obviously the first name to come up, but between rumors of the club shopping him, his relatively few minutes with the club, and a moment of clear and visible friction between him and the head coach in last week’s match, one has to wonder if he makes this trip. The club also released Ryan Johnson yesterday.
The remaining pieces? Robbie Findley, former US MNT player, who, after a slow start to the season, has gradually developed into a more consistent threat. Billy Forbes, who can play either wing, finish a ball, or create the chance. Richard Menjivar, a midfielder who has been pushed into a #9 role. And Ian Svantesson, who after subbing in for Samaras, did not look like a bad option last week.
The Cosmos defense will need to be wary of Forbes and his ability to force the ball up the wing before delivering a cross and will need to be especially careful of Michel’s ability to make teams pay with his set piece abilities.
With it looking more likely that Yasmani Duk will be out of the match for a friendly with the Bolivian national team, Jairo Arrieta should get the start and Juan Arango and the rest of the midfield will be called upon to break through the Rayo back line and Boateng. An item to note here is that it seems unlikely we will see Niko Kranjčar appear here after his injury last week, an absence that will hurt.
Every aspect of the game should have an advantage for New York, but I remain worried about the defense being exposed by balls over the top and Forbes’ ability to drive it down the wing. An additional concern would be the sudden loss of Mike Lahoud, although Danny Szetela did an excellent job last week against the Rowdies.