By DAN KARELL
The New York Cosmos enter Sunday’s encounter with FC Edmonton in arguably the best form of any team in North America.
Winners of their last five and unbeaten in eight games, the Cosmos are 90 minutes away from clinching a place in the Soccer Bowl next month, assuming they can defeat the Eddies at James Shuart Stadium. According to veteran defender Hunter Freeman, scoring early goals has given the team a boost that they were missing earlier in the season.
“When your team puts three or four goals in front of you it makes things a lot easier and it relieves some pressure,” Freeman told SBI after training on Wednesday. “I think it’s one of the things (we’ve done) in the past two to three games is scoring goals in the first half.
“(It’s) something that at the beginning of the season we weren’t doing, we were leaving it so late and the pressure built up. It makes a big difference because now teams can’t just pack it in and also the confidence goes through the team and guys play with a little bit more freedom and confidence.”
Freeman and co. know that the way their defense has performed recently, an early goal could give them the only advantage they need to pull off a victory.
Here are some more notes from this week’s training:
TRIALIST REVEALED: FORMER SOUNDERS DEFENDER ASHANI FAIRCLOUGH
For the past two weeks, the Cosmos have included a handful of trialists and guest players during their daily training sessions, including a large, hulking centerback who has impressed in scrimmages.
On Thursday, the identity of the player was finally revealed to be former Seattle Sounders defender Ashani Fairclough. The 21-year-old Jamaican was waived by the Sounders this past July without playing a first-team match and has been without a club since. However, according to a report from Empire of Soccer, the 6-foot-2-inch Fairclough could be a player the Cosmos sign for next season.
“Fairclough is a player that has played in MLS,” Cosmos head coach Giovanni Savarese told Empire of Soccer. “We are looking at players all the time. He is a potential player that is training for us and we are looking already for next year.
“While we are participating (in the league) now, we are still exploring options for next year. He is a potential player for the future.”
Fairclough, a Jamaican youth international at the U-17 and U-20 levels, played four seasons at University of South Florida, where he suited up next to compatriot Deshorn Brown, who currently stars in MLS for the Colorado Rapids. The Portmore, Jamaica native wasn’t chosen in either the MLS SuperDraft or Supplemental Draft.
TEAM DEFENSE LIVING UP TO THEIR POTENTIAL
As the Cosmos squad continues to grow and gel, some of the trends beginning to form is how good the defense is.
Even after losing Hunter Gorskie to a season ending injury, the Cosmos have earned clean sheets in four of their past five games, including two shutouts on the road. In their last game, a 4-0 victory against the Carolina RailHawks, the Cosmos completely shut down the dangerous front-three of Brian Shriver, Zach Schilawski, and Brian Ackley.
“I think this past weekend vs. Carolina was from top to bottom, everyone in the team, forwards, midfielders, defenders, goalkeeper, I think it was our best overall performance for 90 minutes,” Freeman said. “They really didn’t have any chances. We were happy with that of course, as a defender when you keep a team to zero goals its always a good feeling.”
With the team still growing and getting to know each other better on and off the field, the chemistry and success of the defensive side of the Cosmos game should only continue to grow.
OTHER NEWS AND NOTES
- The Cosmos announced on Thursday that they have signed 10-year-old Zachary Bernstein to a one-day contract for Sunday. Bernstein was diagnosed earlier this year with cancer.
- Freeman said one of the reasons for the team’s consistency has just been that they have settled into a routine
- Last week saw head coach Giovanni Savarese select the same starting eleven in consecutive weeks for the first time all season. That streak is in doubt though with the re-emergence of Alessandro Noselli, who could start in place of Stefan Dimitrov.
- Practice on Wednesday was very high tempo, with plenty of short-burst sprint drills mixed in with one-touch and two-touch possession drills in confined spaces.
What do you think of these notes? Do you agree with the Freeman’s comments about the Cosmos scoring? Do you see the Cosmos signing Fairclough? Do you feel that the Cosmos defense can be even better?
Share your thoughts below.