A shirtless Bledi Bardic celebrates his game-winning goal in the final seconds for the New York Cosmos against Black Rock FC in the First Round of the 2019 US Open Cup. Photo: Matthew Levine | New York Cosmos
With stoppage-time winding down and extra time looking imminent, a final corner kick from left-back Ansi Agolli found the head of Bledi Bardic who converted his first goal of the season to send the New York Cosmos B past Black Rock FC, 2-1, and into the Second Round of the 2019 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
“We needed that goal bad and that ball came to me and I just hit in,” said Bardic. “I’m happy to score and I’m happy to go through because it was important.”
With the First Round being particularly brutal to National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) teams, the Cosmos join only three other squads from the league’s initial group of 14 in the next round and will play Hartford Athletic of the USL Championship (Div. 2 pro) this Tuesday on the road.
In a game where New York dominated possession in the first half, USL League Two’s Black Rock FC stayed composed enough to hold the team to only one goal. The group, comprised of mostly college age players, had only starting practicing within the last week before making the trip south to New York City to play in front of 463 fans at Rocco B. Commisso Soccer Stadium.
The Cosmos got off to a quick start, earning the first shot on goal and yellow card on Kevin Venegas all within the first ten minutes. The B club to the eight-time NASL champions got its first real chance when a handball was called inside the Black Rock box. Cosmos captain Danny Szetela stepped up and shot low towards the right where keeper Leland Gazo correctly dove before covering the ball up.
Aaron Dennis celebrates his goal for the New York Cosmos against Black Rock FC in the First Round of the 2019 US Open Cup. Photo: Matthew Levine | New York Cosmos
“I just hit it bad I guess,” Szetela said after the game. “I wanted it to go up. Playing here at Columbia [University], the turf is a lot different than Mitchel [Athletic Complex], a lot more rubber. I just didn’t hit it the way I wanted to and that’s it. I missed, it wasn’t the first and probably won’t be the last.”
The visiting New England side looked out-matched to start the contest with the Cosmos dominating possession in the first half while Black Rock couldn’t get the ball past the halfway point early on. Despite it being one-way traffic for stretches of the first half, chances did present themselves multiple times for Black Rock.
Twenty minutes in, Ifunanyachi Achara found the ball after a Cosmos attack, giving him a chance to sprint down the left side of the field. A teammate was open and onside across the field but the cross was too weakly hit allowing New York to intercept.
Only two minutes after this, the Cosmos’ aggressive, offensive tactics finally paid off when a charging Aaron Dennis finished a cross from Giuseppe Barone on the left side of the box just under Gazo’s arm.
Dennis, who was previously a member of the Miami FC team that reached the quarterfinals of the 2017 tournament by beating MLS sides Orlando City SC and Atlanta United, has scored in three straight games for the Cosmos including their two NPSL matches.
“It’s gonna be hard to score if your not getting in the box and not being dangerous” Dennis said. “So my thing is just getting in the box and whether I get one opportunity or two I’m just gonna be there at the right moment and hopefully the ball will go in.”
The Cosmos continued to push but couldn’t find the back of the net again as the first half bled into the second. Over the last 45 minutes, the team’s dominant possession began to lessen and the chances on goal were replaced with wider shots and more ball time being given to Black Rock.
“First half I think was great,” Bardic said. “It could have been 3-0 for us but it happens. With soccer sometimes if you don’t score the [other] team is gonna come back. After sixty minutes we slowed down a little bit, they put their pressure on us.
“[Black Rock is] a very good team,” he continued. “They were organized team. They had a good forward [Achara], fast guy. I think they’re a good team.”
Black Rock continued to mount possession time in the Cosmos end but the threatening chances weren’t there until late in regulation. In the 87th minute, Komar Martinez-Paiz notched the tying goal off a deflection after he received the ball at the top of the box.
With the game seemingly destined the reach overtime, The New York Cosmos B looked as though they would become the second New York area team to head to extra time thanks to a late game comeback after New York Red Bulls Under-23s blew a two-goal lead against FC Motown the previous night. But Bardic’s game-winner sent the fans at Rocco B Commisso Stadium to their feet and some onto the pitch as a shirtless, and subsequent yellow-carded Bardic, celebrated with the team’s supporters group.
“That’s the Five Points, they’re just celebrating,” Szetela said. “They didn’t hurt anybody so we should leave them alone and continue to have fun. It makes it a lot of fun for us when they are in the crowd and supporting us.”
With the team moving on to play Hartford and earning the organization’s first tournament win in two years (losing to Reading United in 2017’s First Round and falling to the Brooklyn Italians in last year’s impromptu Play-in Round), Szetela knows that besides taking things game-by-game, the team’s goal is to reach the Fourth Round where the Cosmos can play a Major League Soccer team. When the Cosmos senior team was a member of the North American Soccer League, the group enjoyed a period of three years (2014-2016) where it reached the fifth round and beat both New York-area MLS teams (New York Red Bulls and New York City FC – the latter in two consecutive years).
“[The tournament] is very important,” Szetela explained. “Obviously we want to go play against MLS teams. So we got to take it one game at a time.
“Here in America, they say MLS is the highest level. Not everyone agrees with that, but you want to play against the best teams they say are in this country.”
When asked if he agreed with that statement, Szetela didn’t leave much up for interpretation.
“No, I don’t think so,” he said. “I think that teams that were in the NASL that got taken away with unfortunate events. Right now there’s rules in this country and this sport of soccer and you have to live by them. So hopefully in the future, soccer can change in this country but right now we have to deal with what we have and continue to have fun.”