CHAMPIONSHIP WEEKEND RECAP
Semifinal 1: NYC England 1-1 NYC Poland (NYC Poland wins 6-7 on penalties)
The semifinal on field 8 pitted NYC England vs. defending Cosmos Copa champions NYC Poland. The game was technical, however the story of the match was written on the penalty spot, with the referee awarding three penalties during regular time and extra penalty kicks needed to decide the result.
NYC Poland was missing star midfielder Teddy Niziolek for this semifinal clash, and in the early going Poland’s ball control suffered greatly in his absence. England looked up for the challenge of facing the defending champs as they retained the ball and looked to push forward early and often. The first real chance of the match came for NYC Poland against the run of play when the referee awarded a penalty for a fairly weak challenge on the edge of the box at the 15 minute mark. The resulting spot kick was blown over the top of the frame by Lukasz Hausner, proving the old adage “the ball never lies” to be quite true in this case. Poland was awarded their second trip to the spot shortly thereafter, this time for a handball in the box after a failed clearance off a corner kick. This time Zbignien Puzio stepped to the spot and confidently finished in the top left corner to give Poland the 1-0 lead. Moments later, NYC England was awarded a penalty of their own after star striker George Fenwick went down under an aerial challenge in the box. Fenwick took the spot kick himself and opted for placement over power with and was denied by a beautiful diving low post save by goalkeeper Marcin Czwerinski to preserve NYC Poland’s one goal lead.
NYC England continued to have the lion’s share of possession in the early stages of the second half however Czwerinski made a number of key saves to keep his side on top. As the match continued on an English breakthrough seemed inevitable. It finally came in the 70th minute. A great piece of wing play resulted in a tight angle strike on net that was impressively saved by Czwerinski, but the rebound fell to NYC England’s Thomas Smith who finished from close range to level the match. The final twenty minutes were rough on both sides as the heat began to wear on the players. Penalties would be needed to decide who was moving on to the final.
NYC England looked likely to break their home nation’s penalty hex as the fifth taker Kyle Harman-Turner stepped to the spot with a place in the final at his feet, however his kick was brilliantly saved and the shootout continued on. In the eighth round of the shootout NYC England’s Thomas Wharf skied his kick over the goal, giving the Polish one shot to win the match. NYC Poland’s Damian Serafin calmly buried his kick, sending his team to their second straight Cosmos Copa final.
Semifinal 2: NYC Senegal 3-1 NYC Mexico
No one expected NYC Senegal and NYC Mexico to make it to the Cosmos Copa Semifinals before the tournament kicked off, but these two teams proved everyone wrong by playing some of the most skillful soccer in the entire tournament. The match was highly anticipated as the physical, tireless, technical Senegal hoped to ease past Mexico’s intelligent, flowing passing.
The game started out just as expected and the first ten minutes were back and forth, producing an absolutely riveting precedent for the remaining eighty minutes. In the 15th minute Senegal took the lead with a cool first time strike from Stephane Diop after Mamadou Doudou Diouf swung the ball across goal. Unfortunately, weather had its way in changing the course of the game as the heat index in the afternoon rose well above 100 degrees. The beautiful soccer started to turn scrappy and late tackles were flying in from all angles. Senegal’s Djiby Gning was a victim of this as he was sent off in the 30th minute for getting two yellow cards in a span of ten minutes.
Despite Mexico’s advantage, Senegal carried on and in the 40th minute Diouf and Diop combined again for a second goal, this time Diouf being the goal scorer. Senegal sat back and defended an onslaught of attacks from Mexico, and was able to go into halftime with a 2-0 lead.
Mexico were a rejuvenated team when the second half kicked off as Usiel Vasquez scored in the 47th minute after Raul Salazar put a cross directly on his head. The score became 2-1 and suddenly Mexico looked ready to grab an equalizer, however, Senegal had other plans and put away their third of the afternoon with a great run down the flank from Diouf who set up an easy tap in for Pape Modou Thioune to make the score 3-1.
As time passed in the second half, patience from the players evaporated and the referee unfortunately became a key figure. Mexico’s Vasquez showed his class once again in the 65th minute, finishing off an amazing pass Miguel Martinez to give Mexico yet another lifeline.
In the end though, Senegal’s attack was too menacing and they created a fantastic chance in the 75th minute on a breakaway that Ousmane Sall slotted into the far post to make the final score 4-2. Mexico's disappointment to not to be going to the Championship match showed, but losing to this Senegal side is far from anything to be ashamed of.
Final: NYC Poland 3-1 NYC Senegal
NYC Poland went into the final on the slimmest of margins by defeating NYC England in the semifinal round on penalties, while NYC Senegal glided past NYC Mexico and showed no apparent signs of slowing down. Poland did not play their best match the day before the final, but from the first minute it was clear this team was ready to rise to the occasion. Senegal played without their influential midfielder Djiby Gning because of his red card in the semifinal. Senegal would stick to their gameplan of using their athleticism, individual skill, and physicality to their advantage. Poland would continue to attack with smart passing and a good use of width to stretch Senegal’s defense.
Poland found themselves behind right after the game started as Oumar Niang swung in a perfect cross for Stephane Diop, who placed his header to the far post brilliantly to make it 1-0 Senegal in the 5th minute. The Senegal fans erupted with joy and it seemed that Senegal were going to breeze past yet another quality opponent. However, Poland kept their composure and had the majority of possession for the next 30 minutes.
Then, out of nothing, Teddy Niziolek scored arguably the greatest goal in the history of the tournament. Niziolek collected the ball in midfield, took a touch, then smacked a 45 yard shot straight into the top right corner of the net, leaving Senegal goalkeeper Malick Faye with his hands up in disbelief. The energy this goal gave Poland was equal to the amount of energy it took away from Senegal, who looked absolutely demoralized going into the break.
Smiles filled the Poland team during halftime, and their positive play in the beginning of the second half began to wear Senegal down. Senegal’s trio of Pape Modou Thioune, Mamadou Doudou Diouf, and Stephane Diop continued to be dangerous on the counterattack, but Poland created more chances. Then Poland capitalized on a set piece opportunity, as Teddy Niziolek scored his second of the match with an aggressive header from 4 yards out in the 55th minute.
For the rest of the half, Poland continued to improve on the pitch while Senegal began making more and more thoughtless decisions, including a series of poor fouls. Frustration got to Senegal and in the 81st minute Souleymane Kone was shown a red card for a mixture of a bad tackle and dissent. Poland capitalized in the 86th on their man advantage as Damian Serafin coolly snatched home a winner. “Polska” chants filled the stands and it was clear that Poland would become back-to-back Cosmos Copa Champions.
Poland saw the game out and when the referee blew his final whistle the Poland substitutes splashed coach Mark Kasprowicz with a massive cooler of water. The celebrations began, as did the songs of Polish pride. Poland somehow found a way to defeat an amazing Senegal side that will surely come back next year stronger than ever. Congratulations to NYC Poland!