The Cosmos began their quest for the cup with a 2-0 Third Round win against Jersey Express on Wednesday at St. John’s University’s Belson Stadium in Queens, N.Y.
Despite being the favorite, the Cosmos did not take anything for granted playing a strong lineup including regular season starters like Carlos Mendes, David Ochieng, Ayoze, Danny Szetela, Ruben Bover and Sebastian Guenzatti. By all accounts, the decision to go with a balance of starters and reserve players proved pivotal. Jersey came out with a well organized defense that allowed the Cosmos to control the tempo and possession, but most of the chances from the home side were on crosses that were blocked or long range shots parried away by keeper David Greczek.
Jersey’s backline was anchored by solid play of both Chris Krez and Jonathon Onyeaka. An early yellow card to midfielder Pinto Goulart added extra stress for the visitors, but solid attacking play by Angser Otto would force the Cosmos to recognize how well these teams matched up to each other.
In the 35th minute, the Cosmos broke through on a fantastic free kick from Ayoze after Bover had been taken down just outside the eighteen-yard box. With a four-man wall in front of him, Greczek was completely screened. Ayoze’s placement and pace were perfect and the ball sailed into the upper corner to give the Cosmos a 1-0 lead.
That’s how teams would enter halftime after exchanging low percentage shots as both defenses set the tone for the match. The Cosmos thought they had another goal as Lucky Mkosana put a cross into the goal in the 54th, but the goal was offside. Feeling the pressure, Jersey made its first change bringing in Rajrir Khalon for Jack Ponce, but it would be Jersey’s second substitution that cost them. After a strong 66 minutes but still trailing by a goal, Jersey swapped Tyler Morris for Jonathon Onyeaka. Six minutes later, the long-awaited assurance goal for the Cosmos came as substitute Yohandry Orozco was left wide open on the back post for a simple tap-in header. With the second goal, Jersey was forced to press more and the tired legs could not keep the pace up. The Ayoze goal would stand as the game winner.
The Cosmos now set their sites on finishing up the Spring NASL in first place and then look ahead at a rematch of last year’s Open Cup derby with NYCFC.
“Our goal is to win every game, whether it be in the regular season, or in this competition, so obviously we are happy with the result and we can focus on the next opponent,” Mkosana said.
Cosmos Captain Carlos Mendes said that while it’s great to win the Open Cup game, the focus has to remain on the spring season, but he is excited to play against NYCFC later in the month.
Cosmos coach Gio Savarese was very pleased with the performance. He noted earlier in the week that the match was of the most difficult in the Open Cup format.
“It’s hard because some players and sometimes whole teams, overlook this round of the competition,” he said. “The players get soft mentally and think that they are better, and that’s dangerous. Jersey had a lot of good chances, more than we wanted them to have.”
Savarse calls the derby against NYCFC, the type of game that is really good at growing the sport with a lot of passion and drama.
The Cosmos will visit NYCFC on June 15 at 7:30 p.m. at Coffey Stadium at Fordham University.