November 9, 2016
Cosmos survive to play before an intimate crowd this Sunday
This is the second in a series about about the post-season endeavors about the Red Bulls, New York City FC and the Cosmos
Juan Arango will try to pull off some more magic in the final game of the Cosmos season in the NASL championship game at Belson Stadium at St. John's University Sunday.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
By Michael Lewis
In what has been became one sobering postseason, the Cosmos find themselves as the last local team standing among the three professional soccer clubs.
Given what transpired over the last eight months, we would have thought Cosmos would have some company in the latter rounds.
But on Sunday, the "bloodiest" day in local Major League Soccer history, the Red Bulls and New York City FC were ushered out of the playoffs with home defeats within three hours.
The Red Bulls continued their playoff futility, losing to the Montreal Impact at home, 2-1, after dropping the first leg of an Eastern Conference semifinals series in Montreal.
City did not exactly do itself proud, hitting a new post-season low by losing the second leg at home, 5-0, as it wound up on the very short end of a league-record 7-0 series aggregate-goals total.
Needless to say, quite surprising for two sides that finished one-two in the Eastern Conference.
Some 24 hours earlier the Cosmos booked a spot in the North American Soccer League championship game for the second year in a row and for the third time in four seasons.
The Cosmos continued to show their class, rallying for two goals in the final 17 minutes to register a 2-1 victory over Rayo OKC in The Championship semifinals.
You have to give Rayo a lot of credit. The expansion team stuck to its game plan (did you hear that NYC FC?) and played up to its potential until MVP candidate Juan Arango produced some late-match magic, connecting for the equalizer and creating the game-winner by Yohandry Orozco in the 90th minute.
If they play up to their potential Sunday, the Cosmos should be able to squeak past and defeat a difficult Indy Eleven side that has been nothing but a massive thorn in their side the past several years.
The final is a perfect confrontation of the two best teams in the league. The Cosmos captured the fall season and combined titles, while Indy earned the spring season crown.
Indy, had the distinction of defeating the Cosmos not once, but twice this past season -- at home, 2-1 and 3-0. The Cosmos recorded a 3-0 win over the Indianapolis side in the friendly confines of Shuart Stadium, which makes them hosting the final all the more important given the road results.
The championship game, however, won't be at Shuart because the stadium won't be available on the campus of Hofstra University.
So, instead the Cosmos went to Plan B -- Belson Stadium on the campus of St. John's University -- the site of several Lamar Hunt/U.S. Open Cup games the team has hosted since 2014.
Belson is nice a little stadium, a perfect venue for two New York City soccer programs -- the Red Storm men and women -- that have enjoyed plenty of success over the years. I have covered many a game there since it opened in 2002 and I enjoy how close the press box is to the field and its ambiance.
But the key word for the NASL in the above paragraph is "little." The stadium holds 2,500 spectators (the St. John's athletic website says the venue seats 2,168, though there was no mention of standing room), well below that of Shuart's capacity of 11,929.
While it was not the Cosmos' fault that they could not use Shuart -- hopefully, that subject will be tackled in a future column -- playing a championship game in such a tiny venue certainly isn't a watershed moment for the league game. That goes double for the league's ts flagship franchise in a stadium that is one-fifth the size of its home venue.
Moreover, the NASL, which once wanted to go toe-to-toe with MLS, is now battling for its existence with the loss of at least three teams for the 2017 season.
The powers that be in the NASL have to pray the game becomes a classic one to drown out its critics and skeptics during a year in which the league has taken so much on its chin. That includes losing a team (Minnesota United SC) to the higher Major League Soccer and two teams (Ottawa Fury FC and Tampa Bay Rowdies) to the lower United Soccer League.
The league deserves better.
The fans of soccer and both teams deserve better.
And so do the Cosmos and Indy.
But then again, no one ever said that life was fair, especially in cut-throat world of professional soccer.