The Carolina RailHawks aren’t in Atlanta for this weekend’s North American Soccer League championship, the self-explanatory Soccer Bowl 2013. But Neil Morris is there to provide his observations on the occasion and Saturday’s match between the New York Cosmos and Atlanta Silverbacks
for Triangle Offense.
ATLANTA—After finishing their regular season by losing five of their last seven matches, the Atlanta Silverbacks finally returned to their spring season champion form for Saturday’s NASL Soccer Bowl 2013. Unfortunately, the New York Cosmos continued to play like the team that was unbeaten over their last 11 games, had won seven of their last eight matches and only lost once during the entire 14-game fall campaign.
In other words, for all the clamour—some of it justified—about inflated salaries, poaching talent and playing only half the regular season, the Cosmos are a really good second division team. And Marcos Senna, their star, is a really good player. And now, the Cosmos are the champions of the NASL, winning Soccer Bowl 2013 by a score of 1-0 over the Silverbacks.
For record-keeping purposes, it’s the sixth NASL championship for the Cosmos brand, their last coming in 1982. And the game-winning goal was a golazo by Senna, his sixth goal in 15 games this year.
“It’s an exciting day for sure,” gushed Cosmos manager Giovanni Savarese. “The New York Cosmos is back. We worked very hard this season to play in the NASL. We had to come in for the fall season, so we didn’t have that much time to work. I’m very proud of the players because they accomplished great things.”
The game itself was a grinding, defensive slugfest. Atlanta outshot New York 7-6 (the Cosmos held a 4-2 edge in shots on target), and there were only five total corner kicks. Meanwhile, there were a combined 34 fouls.
Yet, the Silverbacks came out of the gate applying pressure and looking to snag an early score. And it nearly happened in the 13th minute when a chip pass over the top of the Cosmos’ back line found an onsides Pedro Mendes all alone in the box facing down goalkeeper Kyle Reynish. However, Reynish blocked Mendes’ wanting attempt to keep Atlanta off the board.
Eventually, the Silverbacks’ quick start subsided and the Cosmos settled into their typical pattern of stout midfield defense and opportunistic offensive play. Still, the Cosmos squandered their own chances. Forward Diomar Diaz missed two shots in the box in 21st minute. In the 28th minute, Sebastián Guenzatti skied a sitter over the goal. And in the 30th minute, Senna bent a 20-yard free kick over the wall, but it was saved by diving Atlanta goalkeeper Joe Nasco. Indeed, Nasco kept the Silverbacks in the game throughout a scoreless first half.
But even Nasco was powerless to stop the Cosmos lone score in the 50th minute. A free kick off the left wing by Ayoze was deflected out to a waiting Senna stationed atop the box and slightly outside of the right post. Senna volleyed a shot that looped over a leaping Nasco and nestled into the far netting.
“It is difficult for me to describe exactly the goal the way it went,” Senna said. “What I can say is that it was a moment of happiness.”
Senna’s coach was even more effusive.
“There no question that he’s been the best player in this league, not only our team,” Savarese said.
The energy seemed to drain out the Silverbacks’ supporters among the 7,211 in attendance, as they realized the arduous task of scoring on the Cosmos’ defense. Virtually every time Atlanta found space to launch an attack, it would play a wayward pass or dribble into a throng of defenders. Pablo Cruz in particular made several strong runs toward goal only to give the ball away or deliver crosses that sailed out of bounds.
In the end, even five minutes of stoppage time wasn’t enough for the Silverbacks, which competed valiantly but were outmatched by the tactically and technically superior Cosmos.
The future of the Cosmos in second division looks bright. They’ll have an entire offseason to retool and restock, a half season of championship experience under their belt. Their ownership will undoubtedly feel emboldened to spend even more on talent for 2014, as the team looks to not only repeat as NASL champions but will compete in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup for the first time in club history.
And the 37-year-old Senna, who will face his former club Villarreal in the Marcos Senna tribute match this Wednesday, says he’s coming back next year, too.
“Definitely I will play next year, and hopefully not only next year but more years if my body feels good,” Senna said. “And I want to retire with the New York Cosmos.”
Meanwhile, the rest of the NASL now realizes business (and budgets) as usual may not be enough to win titles. It will be interesting to see how the next few years play out, whether other teams will cede championships to the well-heeled New Yorkers or (over)spend in an effort to keep up with the Cosmos. Moreover, how will ambitious expansion franchises like Indy Eleven and the Ottawa Fury alter the competitive dynamics?
Soccer Bowl 2013 weekend was a success for the NASL. What remains to be seen is whether on-the-field success for its members now comes with a price tag many cannot afford.