The Elm City Express battled to a 0-0 draw with New York Cosmos B Saturday on a blustery evening at Reese Stadium. With the tie, Elm City clinches a playoff spot in the Atlantic Blue Conference in their inaugural season.
Elm City started a bit sluggish relative to the red-hot form they displayed last weekend, with keeper Matthew Jones forced to make a few difficult saves at the beginning of the game. Due to the absence of some key players, including the team’s leading scorer Tavoy “The Bull” Morgan,
Elm City head coach Ted Haley was forced to reshuffle his lineup.
“We had to make some adjustments, but the boys performed,” said Haley on the missing players and end result.
The offensive link-up play that was so effective a week ago didn’t come as naturally without Morgan. As the Express grew into the game, they began to create more chances on the offensive end. Elm City Express Man of the Match Cristhian Hernández forced the keeper to make a few clearances from set pieces, and the Elm City backline dealt with New York’s frequent long balls.
Although the Cosmos maintained possession and kept the ball well, they failed to create many chances. In the 27th minute, however, New York looked poised to score after a counterattack led to a one-on-one situation, but Elm City’s Arian Lekaj came out of nowhere with a last-man challenge to maintain the tie.
The closest Elm City came to scoring in the first half was a cross that Lucas Gabriel Sousa fired across the six-yard box in the 33rd minute. It landed just wide of the back post, and nobody was there in time to tap it in. A pair of efforts by Miguel Carneiro sailed over the crossbar and Elm City threatened on free kicks, but at the half the game remained a tense and even contest.
The Cosmos came out of the half re-energized and dominated possession early on, threatening goalie Matthew Jones with a series of ambitious shots from outside the box. A lapse in defensive communication by Elm City’s center-back pair of Arian Lekaj and Istvan Kanyo led to a one on one opportunity for New York’s Christian Thierjung, but his effort was just wide.
Halftime changes by coach Haley proved effective as Shaquille Saunchez created chances from his natural right wing position. In the 65th minute, Saunchez broke away and had only the Cosmos keeper to beat, but his shot was saved. Just six minutes later, substitute Graciano Brito ripped a shot just wide of the left post after a cross by Saunchez found his feet inside the box. Elm City continued to create chances throughout the second half but failed to capitalize on multiple occasions.
“We created really good opportunities, but simply couldn’t finish,” said Haley.
In the dying seconds of extra time, the home fans were given a scare as New York’s Bljedi Bardic hit the post with what could have been the winning header. Just seconds later, however, the whistle sounded, ending the tightly contested draw.
The Express backline continued their impressive recent form and notched their second consecutive shutout.
“The more that we’ve played together, the easier the clean sheets have come,” said Jones on the recent defensive success.
The result will guarantee Elm City a spot in this season’s NPSL playoffs, an impressive accomplishment for such a new team.
“It was certainly a team goal to play in the postseason, but we want to do even more,” said Haley on the upcoming playoffs.
The Express return to action next Saturday, where they will face TSF FC in New Jersey.