Coming off a 2-1 loss in Edmonton, the Cosmos hosted the Tampa Bay Rowdies in a decades-old rivalry that promised an exciting showdown. The 2-1 win vaulted the Cosmos to the top of the NASL table with two matches left to play.
The Cosmos again fielded a 4-1-4-1 formation, although there were an interesting pair of changes made.
Jimmy Maurer and the back line remained unchanged with Ayoze, Carlos Mendes, Jimmy Ockford, and Hunter Freeman lining up in front.
At the holding mid position came the first surprise: Danny Szetela received his first start in place of Mike Lahoud, who has been the clear first choice for the position this season.
Yohandry Orozco, Niko Kranjčar, Juan Arango, and Sebastian Guenzatti took their normal spots in front of Szetela.
The second major change came up front as Yasmani Duk was given his first start of the NASL season ahead of his impending departure to the Bolivian national team for the Copa America Centenario.
Available subs included Brian Holt, David Ochieng, Andres Flores, Ruben Bover, David Diosa, Jairo Arrieta, and Lucky Mkosana.
Two changes were made from the week prior. Michael Nanchoff and Kalif Alhassan made a positional swap in the midfield and Tom Heinemann was given back the starting role up top after entering as a sub last weekend.
The Cosmos have had their only consistent success at home this season. Playing against a modern Rowdies squad that has not won there since the 2013 reboot (0-1-3), the Cosmos would encounter a serious problem almost immediately. Kranjčar pulled up short with a groin injury that required his departure in only the fourth minute. In his place, Bover would sub in, making his first appearance since leaving injured in their second match against the Jacksonville Armada.
With a battle raging for control of the midfield, the Cosmos would struggle to do something with their final ball, the Rowdies would struggle to get one.
But, the visitors struck first in the 17th minute. On the counter off a Cosmos attack, Heinemann chested a ball to Alhassan before turning around and starting a run. Alhassan would force a ball through and past the back line. Heinemann would outrun Freeman and Ockford getting to it first. Maurer, who had left the 18 completely in an attempt to cut it off was caught by the penalty spot as Heinemann slid a low shot out of the keeper’s reach and in, scoring his fourth goal in his last three matches at Shuart.
The duo nearly struck again as Alhassan played a ball into open space in the 18, exposing a wide hole in the coverage in the 29th minute, but whiffing on the shot completely, allowing the defense to clear.
Duk would reward his coach’s faith in him in the 32nd minute. With Orozco delivering a ball to the feet of Arango, Arango would draw the focus of two Rowdies defenders and goalkeeper Matt Pickens before sliding a ball to the right and a wide open Duk, giving the Bolivian striker his first goal for the Cosmos in his first start.
Heinemann would be the next player to leave after initially going to ground in the 33rd minute. Following a Mendes foul on him in the 36th (which earned the Cosmos captain a yellow), Heinemann would finally exit in the 38th, forcing the Rowdies to replace him with former Cosmos Danny Mwanga just a minute later.
The Cosmos would take the lead for good in the 40th minute. Arango spotted Bover making a run into the box and hit him with a pinpoint pass over the back line that Bover slid into, extending a leg and putting a ball over a helpless Pickens for the lead.
The second half saw less serious threats for both sides. The Rowdies made a pair of subs in an attempt to bolster their offense, bringing in Junior Burgos for Juan Guerra in the 62nd minute and Georgi Hristov for Michael Nanchoff in the 77th.
The Cosmos had a pair of injury scares in the second half. First, Maurer took a hit from Ockford while making a save on the ball, but played out the match. In the 81st minute however, Flores entered for Bover who left the field as he went down by himself. It was discovered after the match that it was apparently a precautionary move.
Minutes after the substitution, it looked like the Rowdies found their equalizer when Cole’s pass reached the head of Mwanga who nodded it low and past Maurer. The play was called offsides. Upon review of the call, it appears to be incorrect and the goal should have stood.
The Cosmos made a final sub, bringing on Diosa for Orozco in the 87th. The Rowdies had a last gasp at the death as a ball headed towards the Cosmos net off a corner was cleared away by Hunter Freeman, but they would hold onto the result, giving them a huge win that puts them back in first place ahead of a congested schedule with four matches across two weeks.
Next game is against SD Eibar in Las Vegas on Wednesday before the Cosmos return to Shuart, hosting Rayo OKC on Saturday.
- The Cosmos began the match in fifth place due to the outcomes of several other NASL matches and, with the win, are now back in first place.
- The match was a first for each side this season. For the Cosmos, it was their first win after giving up the opening goal (now 1-0-2). For the Rowdies, it was their first loss after taking the lead (now 2-0-1).
- This is the fourth goal Maurer has permitted in seven matches and the first the Cosmos have permitted at home in 2016.
- “Niko is unfortunate. We’ll find out a little bit more. It looks a little bit more serious than expected, but we have to see,” said Giovanni Savarese on Niko’s condition. “It has to do with the groin. We just have to see how severe, if it’s a pull, if it’s a tear. exactly what happened with the groin.”
- “Yasmani is going to leave next week,” said Savarese on the Bolivian’s departure to Copa America Centenario. “It was important for him to play. He’s going to get into competition. What I’m content about is that he’s going to compete on the highest level and he’s going to come back at a good level for us to continue to contribute.”
- With his two assists tonight, Juan Arango now leads the club in goals (3), assists (3), shots (19), and chances created (11, tied with Yohandry Orozco and Jairo Arrieta)