HEMPSTEAD, NEW YORK – The New York Cosmos are the 2015 NASL champions, lifting the Soccer Bowl following a drama-filled 3-2 victory against the Ottawa Fury. The victory is the second title in the three years since the NASL flagship franchise’s return, and the seventh in its history.
The Cosmos were deserving of their 1-0 lead at halftime, from a Gastón Cellerino goal that was representative of the first frame. The Cosmos took advantage of a high press that caused all kinds of trouble for the Fury, who looked sluggish and couldn’t cope with their opponent breathing down their throat at every opportunity. In fact, it could and should have been 2-0 when the Cosmos winger Walter Restrepo sent in a cross that fell to Cellerino in the middle of the six-yard box. His miss over the bar was one of those where you say that it was easier to score than to miss.
Fury centre-back Rafael Alves played well in the first half, but the only Fury player who looked alert and sharp was Mauro Eustaquio. Passes were errant, battles were lost all over the pitch and even Golden Glove winner Romuald Peiser seemed out of sorts. Head coach Marc Dos Santos, in his last match with the Fury, had a ton of work to do at half-time to snap his team back into the form Fury supporters had grown used to since May.
Although the Fury had a bit more jump in their step coming back from the break, the Cosmos continued their dominance by being strong in possession and limiting Ottawa’s forays into attacking positions with a dangerous-looking counter-attack. Every risk taken by the Fury seemed to turn into an opportunity for the Cosmos. Cosmos head coach Giovanni Savarese had done his homework.
In the 68th minute, the match was flipped on its head when referee Alan Kelly issued a red card that will be debated for months, if not years, by Fury supporters. In an odd-looking sequence, Fury left-back Mason Trafford attempted to skip over a prone Sebastián Guenzatti, but through a combination of miscalculation and Guenzatti rolling back into his path, Trafford ended up coming down onto him with both feet. To those who know Trafford, it was clear that the incident was accidental. Said Tom Heinemann after the match: “He’s one of the most good-hearted guys on our team. There’s never any intent on his part to stomp on anybody, or to hurt anybody.” This was a sentiment echoed by Fury captain Richie Ryan: “It’s what I said to the referee. He’s one of the most gentle fellas on the team; he’s not going to stomp on anyone on purpose. The fella rolled back into him and Mason didn’t have anywhere to put his foot. Where’s he supposed to go?” The referee can’t be expected to keep a notebook full of players’ good behaviour away from the pitch, and had to call what he saw. In this case, it was a player coming down with two feet on another player’s ribcage.
The red card came at the worst possible time for the Fury, as the the momentum had begun to turn in their favour.
Despite the setback, the Fury were quickly able to break through in the 70th minute when Heinemann beat the offside trap on a pass from Andrew Wiedeman, going in all alone on Jimmy Maurer and slotting ball past the stranded keeper to tie the score at one. It suddenly seemed like the Fury were in with a shot if they could hold the scoreline until extra time and penalties.
The red card forced Dos Santos to immediately bring in the only option he had to replace Trafford at left back: Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé, a recent loan acquisition from the Montreal Impact and whose natural position is at defensive midfield, had recently acquired experience playing left back while on duty with the Canadian under-23 Olympic qualifying squad. Unfortunately for him, the first action he saw was to try and defend an ever-dangerous Restrepo bearing down on him. Restrepo turned him rather easily then sent in a cross to Cellerino, who buried his second goal of the match. If you’re keeping score at home, that was a Fury red card, Fury goal and Cosmos goal, within a span of 4 minutes. Heads were spinning.
With the Fury throwing everyone forward, it was a matter of time before the Cosmos counter-attack struck. That moment came in the 85th minute, when Cellerino gathered a Raul pass on the run with the Fury defence scrambling to cope with the threat. Cellerino closed down on Peiser and capitalized, picking up his hat-trick and seemingly sending the Cosmos to victory.
Anyone who’s watched the Fury’s incredible run of 26 matches with only one loss wasn’t about to throw in the towel, and these believers were rewarded with a wrinkle in the Cosmos march to victory when Heinemann scored his second goal of the match in the 92nd minute, and for a brief moment it seemed the Fury were going to pull one last rabbit out of their hat.
Unfortunately for the estimated 300 travelling supporters, the Cosmos were able to evade the ensuing kitchen sink thrown their way and emerge victorious. It was the champion’s send-off the organization was hoping for for its retiring superstar duo of Raul and Marcos Senna.
It was a disappointing end for the Fury and its supporters, but given the proper mourning period they will surely look back fondly on a season that earned them plaudits from all corners and the league’s respect. No one is sure what the future holds, but Dos Santos put it best in his post-match press conference: “My guys played like champions all year, and they lost like champions. They can leave here with their heads held high. If you have to lose, lose like champions and that’s what we did.”