ATLANTA — Round 1 goes to the Cosmos. But preparing for next week’s Round 2 was the real goal of the night.
New York’s Henry Lopez buried a goal in the 34th minute, the only tally of the night in the Cosmos’ 1-0 win over Atlanta on Saturday.
Both Atlanta and New York came in knowing they had clinched spots in next week’s NASL Soccer Bowl. The Silverbacks clinched hosting rights by winning the spring season, and the Cosmos wrapped up the fall title last week.
A plethora of players who don’t normally get playing time were used by both teams, and Cosmos coach Giovanni Savarese was proud of the group he fielded getting a win against their championship opponent.
“It shows the mentality of our players, that whoever steps on the field is going to do the job,” Savarese said. “We’ve been working as a united group, so whoever steps on the field is going to know what their responsibilites are.”
Lopez’s winner came on a very skillful play. One of his teammates crossed the ball in from the right side, and Lopez took it after a bounce and hit a hard side volley with his right foot. It deflected off a defender and past goalkeeper Cody Mizell for the game’s only score.
The Silverbacks outplayed the Cosmos in most areas aside from the scoreboard. Atlanta won the battle of shots on target 4-3 and earned seven corners to New York’s three. Atlanta coach Brian Haynes praised his team for staying close, but said his attackers needed to finish.
“The guys gave a good effort,” Haynes said. “I think the fact that they got goal shy and didn’t score on their chances — Kellen Gulley had two of them, breakaways, that he didn’t hit. He hit the keeper twice. Brad Stisser had one that he put over the crossbar, but he’s just coming back to health. It’s so good to have him.”
The Silverbacks were coming off a couple of four-goal losses, so getting Stisser and Central grad Borfor Carr on the field was a help for the team going into the title game, according to Haynes.
“Glad to see Borfor Carr on the field again,” he said. “If he had just jogged on the field and jogged off, I would’ve been happy.”
Carr, who saw his first action in two months, looked sharp in his limited time, taking a free kick rebound and dribbling it through defense to win a corner in the 77th minute.
“When you miss eight weeks and only train for two, and one of those two you can’t even go 100 percent, to come out here in a game against the Cosmos, I was just trying to be careful but not play without fear,” Carr said. “I just wanted to let it go. There’s a big game next week.”
The game was full of reunions and returns for a number of players with local ties. Carr made his injury return, former Silverback Paulo Mendes joined the Cosmos on the trip against his former team and his twin brother, Pedro, although neither saw the field Saturday. Brookwood grad Jahbari Willis made his first appearance in Atlanta after re-signing with the club recently. He was pleased to return to his hometown but not happy with the outcome despite some good offensive chances in the second half.
“A loss is a loss,” he said. “We’ve been working hard all week. I think they only had one shot all game, and we had plenty of chances. I think we could’ve done better on our finishing this game, which is on us the forwards and me primarily. I had a couple of chances that I needed to tuck away.”
Jimmy Maurer, a Lawrenceville native who played at St. Pius X and is also a former Silverbacks goalkeeper, came in with the Cosmos and earned a clean sheet in his return to Atlanta.
“It’s been one of those years,” Maurer said. “Our team’s been doing so well, and we’re working hard every day in training and you’re waiting for your shot. Luckily the guys put the work in in San Antonio and got the result (to clinch the fall title).
“For me personally, to come back here to Atlanta, to play was so awesome. I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”