After a heartbreaking loss in Indy, the Cosmos are on the road again in the first of what could be the two most important weeks of the season. After dropping to third on the table, they will face Minnesota United, currently one spot ahead of them but tied on points and goal differential, in a match that could put the victor in sole control of second place, or even bump them up into first.
New York will look to continue their eight-game unbeaten streak against the Loons and stay in contention for a spring title.
Minnesota had a busy offseason and preseason, acquiring some of the best parts of the rest of the NASL, along with some interesting players from outside of it.
Lance Laing, in Edmonton in 2015, and Stefano Pinho, with the Strikers last year, were two of the biggest names they acquired, and put the total of 2015 NASL Best XI players on their current roster at six. After subbing in the first week, Laing has managed to latch onto a starting role, but Pinho has still been unable to crack the XI with Ramirez performing so well, and has had to satisfy himself with substitution roles.
United also picked up some great pieces from MLS. A few that have impacted them the most include Damion Lowe, acquired on loan from the Seattle Sounders in preseason, who has managed three appearances (two starts) while also scoring a goal last week, and Jeb Brovsky, a member of NYCFC’s back line last year who now plays as a holding mid. Ben Speas also signed with them after leaving Columbus Crew and made an impact in his second match.
After an opening week loss to Carolina, United stopped lining up in a 4-1-4-1 formation and employed a 4-2-3-1 instead with better results, going 2-0 and scoring five goals while permitting none, after their opening week 2-1 loss.
Keeper Sammy Ndjock has come into his own since 2015. After two goals permitted in the opening week, he’s posted back to back shutouts and will be formidable to score against.
Striker Christian Ramirez and midfielder Ben Speas have been the chief source of goals with both scoring twice and each having a hand in assisting or creating another goal.
As if the firepower from the striker and attacking mids weren’t enough, the Cosmos will also need to contend with Justin Davis and Keven Venegas, fullbacks who have plenty to offer on the attack. In fact, last fall, during their encounter at Shuart, New York seemed to be on the back foot until Venegas left with an injury.
Speaking of the Cosmos, they will have some decisions to make, after last week’s fall in Indy. Despite the Indy goals coming last week in the final minutes from a controversial PK and a later rebound, the truth is that the Cosmos lacked control for most of the first half, and the latter stages of the second and will have to decide whether to revert to a 4-1-4-1 to keep the pressure on United and or try to clog up the middle defensively with a 4-2-3-1.
As far as injuries, Ruben Bover is still healing up and it’s doubtful he makes the trip. Mendes appears to have recovered from the light hamstring pull he suffered last week. This would suggest that Gio Savarese continues to have plenty of options to play with for either formation, and now it’s a matter of waiting to see what he chooses.