HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. – (April 18, 2015) In Raúl’s home debut, the New York Cosmos picked up a 2-0 win over the Tampa Bay Rowdies in front of a record crowd of 12,550.
Yes, it was a good night in Cosmos Country.
“It is definitely one of the greatest days of the new era,” Cosmos coach Giovanni Savarese said. “We had a lot of energy. It wasn’t only the amount of people, but there was a lot of energy inside the place. The team performance as well helped. It was a great night to see so many fans. God gave us also a beautiful day to play.”
Marcos Senna and Leo Fernandes scored in each half for the Cosmos, who stretched their unbeaten streak to three consecutive games to start the North American Soccer League spring season.
Senna was sent to the spot after Darnell King handled a cross by Walter Restrepo at the back post. Senna stutter-stepped, forcing Kamil Contofalsky the wrong way before calmly slotting in his first goal of the season in the 11th minute.
It was the first first-half goal of the season for the Cosmos, who finally scored in the run of play for the first time this season in the 48th minute when Leo Fernandes struck for his second goal in a Cosmos uniform.
Senna played the ball to Restrepo, who cut the ball across to an open Fernandes and the Long Island native put the Cosmos (2-0-1) in front 2-0 from 12 yards out.
While Fernandes isn’t one of the biggest names in the Cosmos roster, the midfielder on loan from the Philadelphia Union had one of the biggest contributions this far.
“I have to say there’s no surprise about that,” Savarese said. “He’s an excellent player, a player who is developing, has great qualities. We just have to continue helping him to reach even a bigger point because there’s room still for improvement. He has so much talent and he’s showing it every single game. He plays with fun and he’s eager to learn and get better.”
While Cosmos legend Pele provided a pre-game buzz as part of an on-field ceremony with former teammates, many in the sellout crowd came out to see Spanish superstar Raúl, who played 90 minutes for the first time in a Cosmos uniform before being subbed out for Lucky Mkosana deep in second-half stoppage time.
“Today I felt very good,” Raúl said. “The last two, three weeks I can only do one training completely with the team because I have a problem with my hamstring. I hope next week to improve my performance for the team.”
The biggest adjustment for Raúl, who said he didn’t expect to be in the lineup on Thursday, has been playing in artificial surfaces.
“It’s very difficult for me to play on this stuff,” Raúl said. “Last week we did only one training in the stadium. I need a little bit of time to understand. It’s very different, the pass of the ball, the movements, its totally different than when you play on grass. I’m going to do my best in every training and every day.”
Senna was dangerous throughout en route to winning the Emirates Man of the Match. He caused problems with a cross in the 34th minute that nearly resulted in an own goal off the head of defender Tamika Mkandawire, but Contofalsky made a tremendous save to parry the ball away for a corner.
Senna had a chance to tack on a second goal, but his free kick from 22 yards out in the first minute of first-half stoppage time bounced wide of the near post.
The Rowdies (1-1-1) had a pair of quality chances to equalize late in the first half as Robert Hernandez was played in by Hristov, but Jimmy Maurer, who claimed his 15th career NASL shutout, made the save on the shot from the edge of the six-yard box in the 39th minute.
Hernandez was then played over the top, cut outside and then in on Carlos Mendes, but rolled his shot just wide of the far post in the 43rd minute.
Tampa Bay almost pulled a goal back in the 71st minute when Darwin Espinal made a run to the end line and cut back to Georgi Hristov, but his shot was blocked in front of goal.
The Cosmos head to Atlanta to take on the Silverbacks, while Tampa Bay is home for the Jacksonville Armada FC. Both matches kick off April 25 at 7:30 p.m.