2015 CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW
By Aaron Cheris (@AaronHowie)
On July 4 at Randall’s Island, 32 teams began Cosmos Copa play looking to take home the coveted cup. Nearly a month later, two teams - NYC Colombia and NYC Ireland - remain in their quest to bring home the hardware. The Cosmos Copa Final will be played at Hofstra University’s Shuart Stadium on Sunday, August 2. It will follow the New York Cosmos’ NASL match against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers at 5 p.m. ET.
NYC Colombia is looking to become the first South American team to win the Cosmos Copa championship. Their road to the final has been a difficult one, and it is the culmination of a makeover of the program.
The Colombians had never made it to the knockout stages of the tournament before, and they are hoping to ride the good vibes all the way to the championship.
“Making the round of eight was something that we didn’t expect. Usually the Spanish teams don’t get here,” team president Guillermo Lillo said.
In the opening round, NYC Colombia started as the three seed in a strong Group D. A 2-0 victory over NYC Spain got the Colombians started off on the right foot. In their next game, NYC Colombia beat NYC Poland 3-1 to clinch their spot in the Round of 16. A scoreless draw with NYC Mexico put the Colombians atop Group D with seven points.
In the Round of 16, NYC Colombia was paired up against the host team, NYC USA. A tightly fought game had no goals for 90 minutes. In the penalty shootout, the Colombians edged the Americans 4-3 to clinch their spot in the Round of 16.
Another penalty shootout awaited the Colombians in the quarterfinals, this time against NYC El Salvador. After a 1-1 draw in regulation, the Colombians powered through to the semifinals with a 4-1 win in the shootout.
The semifinals put NYC Colombia against a team that went to the final the last two years, NYC France.
In the semifinal, NYC Colombia started on fire. Early goals from Kevin Correa and Jozef Hemil Nieble put them up 2-0 and kept NYC France on the ropes.
The French squad answered with a goal on a penalty kick, but the Colombians regained a two-goal lead when Correa scored while falling down during a rainstorm
NYC France tried to put an equalizer past goalkeeper Manuel Elijaek, but the keeper was up to the challenge.
“He’s a very strong goalkeeper,” Lillo said of Elijaek. “We have a very well-constructed team with good defense.”
NYC Colombia put the game out of reach late on a goal from Andres Mauricio. He put the ball into a vacant net after the French goalkeeper went on the attack to try and tie the game.
The 4-2 win put NYC Colombia in the finals for the first time, and they are excited for the experience.
“It’s going to take a lot of discipline,” Lillo said. “It’s going to be a physical game for us to win.”
NYC Ireland made it all the way to the finals in the first Cosmos Copa back in 2009. There, they fell to NYC Albania 4-1. Six years later, the Irish have made it back to the finals, and they are looking to finish the job this time around.
“It’s been a long, hard struggle trying to get back there. We’ve been to the semifinals and quarterfinals, and we didn’t even get out of the qualifiers one year,” NYC Ireland coach Austin Friel said. “We strengthened the squad more this year, which I thought would take us further, and I was right.”
Unlike NYC Colombia, NYC Ireland didn’t start the tournament on the right foot. With a 1-0 lead in their opening round game against NYC Paraguay, the Irish couldn’t hold onto the lead as NYC Paraguay scored a late equalizer to finish the game tied 1-1. The Irish wouldn’t draw again.
Victories over NYC Japan and NYC Jamaica sent Ireland to the Round of 16 as Group E’s top seed. In that round, NYC Ireland held off a dangerous NYC Senegal squad 2-1 to advance to the quarterfinals.
A strong defensive performance led the Irish to a 2-0 win over NYC Ukraine in the quarterfinals. In the semifinals, NYC Ireland fell behind early to defending champion NYC Gambia.
As the Gambians slowed the game down in the second half, NYC Ireland searched for an equalizer. After the referee pointed to the spot giving the Irish a penalty kick, Ian Sweeney stepped up and equalized.
In a dramatic penalty kick shootout, the Irish and Gambian squads traded goals for the first three rounds. In the fourth round, NYC Ireland goalkeeper Alex Condell dove the right way and stopped the Gambian shot. In the next round, John Dineen sent one past the NYC Gambia keeper to send his squad to the finals.
“Alex [Condell] came up at halftime and held his hand up, he was at fault for Gambia’s goal,” Friel said. “But he pulled off some great saves in the second half and then in the penalties he won the game for us.”
Now, NYC Ireland is looking to finish off a championship for the first time in team history. They know it will be a challenge, but they are ready for kickoff.
“I’m going to just worry about us. I believe that if we play to our strengths and our abilities, we’ll be fine,” Friel said.