CARY, N.C. – The New York Cosmos looked in good shape to add the North American Soccer League’s Spring Championship to their trophy cabinet after two wins to start the new season.
Saturday’s 1-0 loss at the Carolina RailHawks at WakeMed Soccer Park instead leaves the Cosmos six points behind table-topping Minnesota United with five games left in this one-off truncated sprint for the line.
New York has incurred back-to-back defeats for the first time since returning to the American soccer circuit last August. Head coach Giovanni Savarese’s side registered 27 shots, almost tripling Carolina’s tally, but they could not find a way past RailHawks goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald.
Ty Shipalane notched the only goal of a sparkling contest after a swift counter-attack on 12 minutes. Carolina central defenders Daniel Scott and Toni Stahl then came to the fore with an excellent defensive showing, particularly after referee Jorge Gonzalez had reduced the hosts to nine players.
Gonzalez’ desultory display began in the first minute when he opted against cautioning Joseph Nane when the Cosmos midfielder cynically halted an early RailHawks break. He pulled out the yellow card six minutes later when Carolina’s right-back Connor Tobin fouled Sebastian Guenzatti.
New York dominated the early possession with Nane, Danny Szetela and former Spanish national team star Marcos Senna fluidly interchanging in the center of midfield. RailHawks head coach Colin Clarke arranged his men in a 4-4-1-1 system with Mike Grella picking up the Cosmos’ deepest lying midfielder. Shipalane and Cesar Elizondo supplied pace down the flanks.
Elizondo’s vivacity created the game-winner when he stripped the ball from Szetela deep inside Carolina’s half. The Costa Rican accelerated away from his opponent before sidestepping Senna and slipping the ball left to the open Shipalane.
Cosmos goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer blocked Shipalane’s first attempt after the South African opted against taking a first-time shot. He could do nothing to prevent the rebound from hitting his net.
Shipalane’s decision-making was sharper four minutes later when he worked a short corner with captain Jun Marques Davidson, skipped inside from the left and thundered a shot off Maurer’s crossbar.
Senna has been the fulcrum for the Cosmos’ recent success with his distinguished savvy compensating for his diminished speed. This was a rare evening when the former Villarreal midfielder appeared out of sorts. Misplaced Senna passes are scarce, yet two unpressurized errors appeared in the first half.
The 37-year-old showed rare indecision when Hunter Freeman teed him up for a volley from a left-wing corner. Senna opted to control the ball at the last second after appearing to wind up for a volley. His subsequent shot flew harmlessly high and distantly wide. The veteran was withdrawn at the interval with what Savarese later told The Soccer Observer was a tight hamstring.
Jemal Johnson became New York’s greatest threat after switching to the left side as the first half neared its conclusion. The former Wolves and Milton Keynes Dons winger forced Fitzgerald into a low save at his near post before firing wide after Guenzatti found him in space in the penalty area.
Referee Gonzalez emerged as the game’s central figure during a 12-minute stretch that saw three dubious red cards. Guenzatti flailed an arm in frustration on 56 minutes after losing a tussle against Elizondo and Kupono Low that may or may not have brushed against the latter opponent. Low’s comical oversell convinced Gonzalez that a haymaker had been thrown.
It was the sort of decision that leaves coaches and fans wondering when the make-up call will arrive. They waited for seven minutes. Tobin clearly played the ball in making a slide tackle on Ayoze that resulted in the Spaniard subsequently tripping over his grounded opponent. Gonzalez deemed this to warrant a second booking for the disbelieving defender.
Johnson quickly seized the chance to attack substitute full-back Jordan Burt, driving to the touchline on 68 minutes before sending in a low cross. Paolo Mendes steered the ball wide under a late challenge from behind by Low. Gonzalez bafflingly awarded a corner kick to the Cosmos before issuing a second yellow card to the defender.
RailHawks coach Clarke reorganized his eight outfield players into two banks of four with his energetic midfield resisting the urge to retreat onto the defensive line. Uriah Bentick and Enzo Martinez replaced Elizondo and Shipalane to stiffen Carolina’s resolve. Any ambitions of launching a counter in the final 15 minutes gave way to punting the ball into the corners to run down the clock.
The fear of another spurious dismissal by Gonzalez led Savarese to replace Ayoze with Diomar Diaz. Stefan Dimitrov joined Mads Stokkelien up front with Johnson and Mendes high on the flanks as the visitors adopted a 3-2-4 formation to find the equalizer.
Stokkelien received the best chance on 77 minutes after Nane dummied Mendes’ cross at the near post. Fitzgerald dived to his right to block the Norwegian’s 8-yard shot with his legs, and Carolina’s defense eventually scrambled the ball to safety.
The RailHawks ended the game with eight players after Bentick was carried from the field deep in stoppage time. New York mounted one final attempt, but Mendes shot tamely into Fitzgerald’s grasp from the edge of the penalty box.
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