by JAKE NUTTING
- Sunday, May 22, 6 p.m. ET at James M. Shuart Stadium
- TV/Streaming: ONE World Sports, oneworldsports.com
- Referee: Michael Lavergne
- Cosmos fans can purchase discounted tickets here by using the promo code Cole. This is 100% true. We are not making this up. The Cosmos used the popularity of a Rowdies player to move tickets.
With four of their five home matches already played, the Tampa Bay Rowdies will need to take care of business on the road if they have any hope of rising to the top and claiming the spring title. Their first stiff road test comes at the New York Cosmos this weekend. The Cosmos have yet to drop a point at home this year and the Rowdies have never notched a victory in New York over the last three years.
Through six matches this year the Rowdies have only managed to find the back of the net five times. Additionally, no player on the roster has recorded more than one goal, with even last week’s tally ultimately being credited as an own goal for Rayo OKC’s Juanan.
Scouting the Cosmos
While the Cosmos have been surprisingly vulnerable on the road this year, they’ve been anything but at home. Three convincing wins in in three outings at Shuart Stadium means the Rowdies have their work cut out for them this Sunday.
New York’s attack is buoyed by several veterans with impressive international pedigrees. Forward Jairo Arrieta has demonstrated great positional awareness to slip in and create havoc behind back lines. Juan Arango has also proved lethal playing as a withdrawn striker and currently leads the team with three goals. Croatian international Niko Kranjcar’s playing time has been inconsistent, but his contributions as a distributor have been on clear display whenever he does make it onto the field. He’s smooth on the ball and can quickly switch the field to spring teammates into the final third in the blink of an eye.
Another player to watch out for is Yohandry Orozco on the left wing. The Venezuelan is deceptively fast and has shown a willingness to outwork opponents up and down the left side of the field. He can create on his own or deliver dangerous balls into the area for teammates. Right back Darnell King will have his hands full this weekend.
The Cosmos had found a nice back line combination, but an injury to right back Gabriel Farfan has forced them to revert back to starting Jimmy Ockford at center back and Hunter Freeman out on the right. This not only eliminates Farfan’s attacking threat from the right, it also forces the Cosmos to lean on Ockford, who has had shaky moments in past starts.
What to Watch For
Possible Changes: It might be time for a change on the left wing. Kalif Alhassan has regressed in recent weeks, and the Rowdies are getting next to no production in that area as a result. It’s been a while since Darwin Espinal got minutes, but his pace and aggressive play could be a mismatch for New York’s Hunter Freeman. Who will suit up as the number 10 is also up in the air. Michael Nanchoff hasn’t looked comfortable in the role yet, and Georgi Hristov hasn’t exactly stamped his claim in the position either.
Set Pieces: The latest addition to the squad, Joe Cole looked most dangerous in his debut providing service on set pieces. This could bode well for the Rowdies, as the Cosmos have shown a tendency to switch off on corner kicks and long free kicks into the box, especially late in matches. If Cole keeps delivering quality set pieces, it has to pay off eventually given the height advantage the Rowdies have on their roster.
Send Help: Regardless of who starts up top on Sunday, they will need some support in the area. The wingers need to start throwing themselves into the mix so that Tommy Heinemann and Danny Mwanga aren’t the only players wearing green and gold in a sea of defenders when the ball is played into the box. Tampa Bay’s cross accuracy has been woeful so far and that is in large part due to the lack of options in the area. It’s easy to shut down an opponent when they only have one attacker in front of goal.