After the New York Cosmos B squeaked past the Brooklyn Italians in the National Premier Soccer League opener for both clubs Saturday night, the coaches felt their team’s glass was half full.
Minutes after the Cosmos B recorded a dramatic, 3-2 stoppage-time victory, head coach Alecko Eskandarian beamed about his team’s performance in its competitive debut.
“One of the more exciting matches I’ve been a part of,” he said. “I’m very proud of our guys’ performance for being together for such a short period of time. Really, this is the first time these guys have ever played with each other. They showed great character. To get the win in injury time was a great cap off to the first game.”
Listening to Brooklyn head coach Mirsad Huseinovic, you might not have thought that the Italians had lost in the encounter played at MCU Park in Coney Island. He walked out of the home of the baseball Brooklyn Cyclones, quite encouraged.
“It’s the Cosmos, first of all, their second team, their NPSL team, guys trying to stick with the first team,” he said. “We’re a bunch of college kids. I have a couple of 18-year-old kids on our team. It’s encouraging that we can play toe to toe with the Cosmos. Even though we came up short tonight, very encouraging for me as a coach.”
The game had plenty of memorable moments from the Cosmos B grabbing a 2-0 halftime advantage to the Italians equalizing in the 83rd minute and striking for the game-winner two minutes into second-half stoppage time.
“You want to make the fans want it a little bit more,” said forward Haji Wright, who tallied the Cosmos’ second goal.
Second-half substitute Julian Stahler did the honors on the game-winning score in the 92nd minute, scoring in a scramble in the penalty area past goalkeeper Michael Bernardi.
It might not have been the prettiest of goals, but it counted all the same.
“Those count more,” Eskandarian said. “Even though it’s opportunistic, that’s a mindset that you have to have because when its late in the game, 92nd minute, 93rd minute it’s easy to kind of like be, ‘Man, I’m tired, I’ll take the tie. I’m not going to go for every ball as hard as I can.’ You got to smell those opportunities. Those are the goals that show even more quality and character than what might be a better quality goal in the run of play.”
A former member of the New York Red Bulls Under-23 team that performed in the NPSL, the 22-year-old New York native impressed Eskandarian on several levels.
“He’s a kid I’ve known just from the local circuit, just from playing pickup, from Chinatown and things like that,” Eskandarian said. “I liked him in the 6 v 6 leagues. Since day one he has come in and worked his butt off and done whatever he was asked, [has] a lot of leadership qualities. He’s literally a kid you can stick anywhere on the field.”
The Cosmos drew first blood on Christian Hernandez’s penalty kick in the 28th minute before Wright, a U.S. Under-17 international, doubled the lead on a breakaway off a Dane Murphy feed in the 41st minute.
“There was a little space between the center backs,” Wright said. “I darted between them. Dane gave me the ball. I cut inside, shot from my left and scored. … I want to thank Dane for his hard work. The goal was all him.”
Brooklyn got back into the game on an own goal by Cosmos defender Kelvin Preciado in the 41st minute and Kevin Lue’s header off an Alejandro Penzini corner kick past keeper Keasal Broome in the 83th.
Huseinovic was heartened by the performance of his young team, which was dominated by college-age players. In fact, most of the players did not meet until Friday, a day prior to the match, the first day college players were allowed to practice under NCAA rules. The Italians roster includes players from Adelphi University, St. Francis Brooklyn College, Cornell University and Siena College, among others.
“Some of the guys had seen each other for the first time today in the locker room,” Huseinovic said. “This the first time our defense has worked together. The only thing they did together was watch us do some stuff on the board today before the game, how we want them to play. With that said, I’m happy with the way they played. It could have been worse. We gave up a few balls away that cost us. This was our first game, first time together. I’ll take it.
“That’s why I feel positive, even though we lost. I’m a big sore loser, but I think [there are] some good things ahead of us.”
Michael Lewis is the editor of BigAppleSoccer.com. He covers the Cosmos and has written about the Brooklyn Italians for many years. Lewis can be reached at SoccerWriter516@aol.com and can be followed at @Soccerwriter.