Overcoming two disappointing losses in their last two matches and facing the only perfect team after four, the Cosmos beat the Carolina Railhawks 1-0 on Sunday night to make their way back into third place, tied with Minnesota on points, but behind by goal differential.
After two away games using a 4-2-3-1, the Cosmos returned to the 4-1-4-1 they used at home for the first two matches and, while it took awhile to find a goal, their dominance for most of the match was undeniable.
There were a few notable changes to the lineup. With Jimmy Ockford on the bench to start things, Hunter Freeman moved inside from the right to pair up with Carlos Mendes and Gabriel Farfan earned his first start of the season on the back line. Ayoze took his regular spot on the left with Mike Lahoud settling in front of the back four.
On the attacking end of things, Sebastian Guenzatti, Juan Arango, and Niko Kranjčar lined up from right to left in the midfield. But, Venezuelan international Yohandry Orozco was finally given the nod for his first league start and a chance to shine. He wouldn’t waste the opportunity. Jairo Arrieta returned as the starting striker.
The RailHawks made one notable change with starting goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald unavailable due to the passing of his mother. Brian Sylvestre took his place and was tested often throughout the evening.
The Railhawks would get the first attempt as Austin Da Luz floated a ball high and towards the net. A close attempt, it would arrive just over the bar as Jimmy Maurer made an effort to ensure it stayed out..
Moments later, Sylvestre, caught in an off moment in the seventh minute, had the ball at his feet as Arango arrived to challenge him. Moving the ball aside, he was able to keep his composure and clear it as Arango overran the ball.
Through most of the first half, the Cosmos would dictate control of the midfield, marching through at at will with strong build-ups and excellent team plays. But, for the majority of the half, the final ball continued to evade them.
A major opportunity came in the 20th minute, when Kranjčar spotted a wide open Guenzatti on the right side and slid a perfect through ball to him. Seba took a big wind-up and put it right into the Carolina keeper who’d left his line, a ball the midfielder really should have finished.
It would take until the 45th minute, but the Cosmos would find their goal, courtesy of first-time starter Orozco. Farfan launched a ball from inside the Cosmos half of the field, hitting Orozco with it perfectly just outside the area. After settling it with a deft touch, Orozco cut right past Drew Beckie, before cutting left and deeper into the box, between Beckie and James Marcelin finding himself 1v1 with Sylvestre. He fired high putting it into the roof of the net giving the Cosmos the lead just before the whistle ended the half.
At halftime, all numbers were in the green. Shots were 8-1, shots on goal 2-0, and possession was 58% – 42% in favor of the home team.
The Railhawks looked to press the attack as the second half resumed, but the Cosmos soon picked up where they left off as Kranjčar received a ball from Ayoze and fired a shot that beat Sylvestre but skipped off the crossbar in the 53rd. Soon after, the RailHawks got lucky again as an Arango free kick was blocked by the keeper with the rebound landing in the middle of the six before getting cleared.
Carolina’s 64th minute subs did make an impact in changing the flow of the game. Forward Billy Schuler entered for Da Luz while center back Simon Mensing came in for holding mid Matt Watson. The latter substitution allowed Marcelin to leave the back line and advance to a defensive midfield spot where he could make more of an impact.
His first contribution came in the 67th as he came at Kranjčar with a hard tackle, earning himself a yellow, but demonstrating Carolina was ready to contest the midfield. They quickly followed that up a minute later with a shot on goal as Brian Shriver went 1v1 with Maurer who managed to knock it away. Mensing’s shot on the ensuing corner was just deflected over and it became difficult to not think about the late goals that sank the Cosmos in the two games prior.
Another effort by Niko went wide, but the RailHawks kept knocking on the door as the Cosmos keeper provided two game-saving moments. The first, a point blank save on Marcelin as he volleyed a ball into the hands of Maurer in the 85th. Two minutes later, Maurer came racing out of his area as he anticpated a through ball to an unmarked Shipalane with a clear route to the net. Maurer’s slide into the ball cleared it and removed their last serious threat to the win.
The Cosmos would hang on to the win, putting them level with Minnesota on points, but falling to third due to goal differential. They next travel to Miami for their first-ever encounter with the Alessandro Nesta-coached side.