Photo Credit: @theprojectfc
The legendary New York Cosmos look to win their 4th modern era NASL Championship vs. the (what looks like the soon to be one year and done) San Francisco Deltas. The match will be played at historic Kezar Stadium in the heart of San Francisco. The Deltas earned the rights to host the final, earning the 2 seed by finishing second in the League in the NASL’s combined regular season standings, and thanks to the Cosmos upsetting the fall and spring season champion, number 1 seed Miami FC.
Many have billed this matchup as Giovanni Savarese vs. Marc Dos Santos as they are arguably the two best coaches in the modern era of the NASL. As well, this is a coaching rematch of the 2015 NASL Final when Dos Santos was in charge in Ottawa. The Cosmos won that 2015 Final by a score of 3-2.
The Deltas finished 2nd to Miami in both the spring and fall seasons. They were in, with a chance to win both of the split season trophies until the final weeks of each season. They finished with 54 points in the combined seasons standings, ending up 15 points behind Miami but 9 points ahead of the Cosmos. The Deltas finished the regular season conceding just 35 goals, good for 2nd in the league, and 16 fewer than conceded by New York.
New York finished 4th in the overall combined standings behind 3rd place North Carolina. After finishing 3rd in the Spring season standings, the Cosmos slipped up in the Fall Season and needed a win on the final day to get into the playoffs ahead of Jacksonville. The team’s star player in 2017, Emmanuel Ledesma, scored a hat trick to lead his team into the playoffs that day. The Cosmos were 2nd in the League to Miami in goals scored, finding the back of the net an impressive 56 times, 5 behind Miami and 15 ahead of the Deltas
How they got here
The Deltas earned a home playoff semifinal vs. North Carolina by getting the 2 seed in the playoffs. The Deltas won what was a tight affair over Carolina by the score of 1-0 in their half of the bracket. The Deltas were able to prevent North Carolina from having a single shot on goal in the entire match. Unsung hero of the Deltas, Tyler Gibson, scored one of the best goals of the season and his first for the Deltas late in the first half to provide San Francisco all the offense they would need.
The Cosmos had to travel to the League’s top team, Miami FC, for their semifinal by sneaking into the playoffs with the 4 seed. The long time Cosmos stand out goalie, Jimmy Maurer, came up with multiple huge saves for his side, including two in the penalty shootout, to help Cosmos book a place in the final. Eugene Starikov, who hit the post in extra time, would make the winning penalty for New York.
April 29th 1-0 Cosmos win at Kezar Stadium
The first ever match between the two sides needed a moment of magic from Emmanuel Ledesma. Ledesma scored one of the goals of the season midway through the 2nd half when he chipped Deltas keeper Romuald Peiser to break the scoreless tie. While the Comsos didn’t dominate that day, they did have the better run of the play and were deserved winners on the night.
May 27th 0-0 Draw at MCU Park
The first match between the two clubs in New York saw a very balanced, but quite dull scoreless draw. The balance of the play again might have been in the Cosmos favor, but neither side did enough to earn all three points that night.
August 5th 2-1 Deltas win at Kezar Stadium
The 3rd matchup between the two sides saw the Deltas pick up their first victory over the Cosmos to even up the season series. Pablo Vranjican scored inside of three minutes for the Cosmos off of a mistake in the Deltas’ defense to give New York the early lead. The Deltas came back with an equalizer in the 36th minute when brand new signing, Dagoberto, put in an inch perfect cross to center back Patrick Hopkins to level the score. Tommy Heinemann would give the Deltas the lead from the penalty spot just seconds before the half time whistle. The Deltas were then able to hold on to that advantage for the remainder of the match.
September 20th 2-2 Draw at MCU Park
The final match of the season was the most wild of the four. The Cosmos thoroughly dominated this match for almost its entirety. Juan Guerra and Vranjican both scored for New York, one in the first half and one in the 2nd, to put the Cosmos ahead 2-0. The Cosmos could have been up even more at this point than just 2-0 as they were controlling all facets of the game. Not long after the goal, Deltas midfielder Michael Stephens picked up a Red Card to put his team down a man on top of being down two goals. However, the Deltas seemed to play better after going down a man as Devon Sandoval scored from the spot in the 80th minute before scoring a rocket from the top of the box in the 85th minute to earn the Deltas the unlikely draw and a point on the night.
Key Players to Watch
Heinemann is the Deltas leading goal scorer for the year with 9 goals to his name. He will be seeking some personal revenge after scoring twice in the 2015 final for Ottawa vs. the Cosmos in their 3-2 loss that day. Heinemann is a key, playing in the way Marc Dos Santos likes to play, both offensively and defensively. How he plays in this match could set the momentum.
Sandoval will likely start on the bench, but that hasn’t changed his ability to impact games for the Deltas. He came up with a huge two-goal performance against the Cosmos back in September that earned him Player of the Week honors that week. If the match goes into extra time, Devon could be a key for the Deltas.
The five-time Brazilian league champion Dagoberto is looking to add another piece of silverware to his name. While getting up there in age has affected his speed, it hasn’t affected his ability to change the game on set plays and on the ball. With 3 goals and 3 assists in just 8 starts, Dagoberto has made a huge impact on the Deltas in a short time.
The young Brazilian on loan from Fluminense has been a crucial player for the Deltas this season. He was nominated for the Young Player of the Year award because of his 6 goals, good for 2nd on the team. While still a raw young player, his pace and skill on the ball could cause the Cosmos defense a lot of problems.
The hero from the Deltas semifinal win has been the team’s rock in the defensive midfield role since the team’s best player Cristian Portilla went down with a season ending injury. Gibson has been a big part of the Deltas success all season and his first goal for the Club in the semifinal was one he deserved for his play throughout the season.
Ledesma is arguably the reason that the Cosmos are even in the playoffs let alone the final, due to the hat trick he scored on the final day of the regular season. Ledesma led his team with 10 goals and is 2nd on the team with 6 assists. He also already came up once with a big goal against the Deltas. If someone on the Cosmos was to score Sunday, it would most likely be Ledesma.
Maurer has been with the Cosmos since the reformation of the Club and has been part of all 3 previous Cosmos Championships in goal. Without Maurer, the Cosmos might not have gotten by Miami in the a semifinal as he made multiple huge saves, including 2 in the shootout. He is just one of many Cosmos’ players who have a plethora of big game NASL experience.
The Cosmos captain will be playing his final ever match as he announced his retirement prior to the end of the season. Mendes has been through it all with the Cosmos, and with this being his last ever match, expect him to be fully focused and ready to lead his side defensively to their 4th NASL title.
Marquez is just one of the many dominant midfielders that the Cosmos have. He had 6 goals and 3 assists for the Cosmos this season. Marquez is a player who will be playing in his first NASL final, but he brings a long resume of big game La Liga experience with him.
Starikov is at this point the Cosmos’ best option up front. The Cosmos are a team that has a huge depth of attacking midfield talent, but aren’t quite as deep up front. Starikov hit the post in extra time in the semifinal before scoring the winning penalty for the Cosmos to send them into the Final. If he were to score Sunday, it would likely mean a Cosmos victory.
I think this game is going to be a tight chess match and it will play out more like the first two match ups between the two sides than the second two. Both coaches will be prepared to go 120 minutes and will be cautious to not concede early in the match. I believe the difference will be one special moment from one of the team’s top players, either Ledesma for New York or someone like Dagoberto for San Francisco off the bench.
For that reason, I will pick the home side SF Deltas to be the first team to stop the Cosmos in a modern era NASL final by a score of 1-0 off of a Dagoberto free kick goal or set piece assist.