Jimmy Maurer stood on his head and then some for the Cosmos. (Photo courtesy of the Cosmos)
MIAMI — The Cosmos are returning to Soccer Bowl for the third consecutive year and for the fourth time in five seasons.
New York stunned Miami FC in The Championship semifinals at Ricardo Silva Stadium, winning on penalty kicks, 6-5, after the teams played to a scoreless draw after 120 minutes of the North American Soccer League playoff game Sunday night.
Miami FC finished the regular season as runaway winners after becoming the first NASL team to capture the spring and fall titles in the same season.
“I’m very proud of our players in the way they conducted themselves today,” Cosmos head coach Giovanni Savarese said.
The two-time defending NASL champions became the last metro area team left standing in the playoffs as the Red Bulls and New York City FC were eliminated from the MLS postseason Sunday.
The Cosmos will play for their fourth NASL title in five seasons next weekend with a road match at the San Francisco Deltas next Sunday. Savarese will look to become the first coach in NASL history to lead his team to three consecutive championships.
Goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer had a game of a lifetime in regulation, making five saves and then helping the Cosmos survive to the shootout before Eugene Starikov converted the game winning penalty kick past keeper Daniel Vega.
Mauer saved the first penalty kick he faced by Michel and Miami’s final try — by Mason Trafford.
“I love penalty kicks. I felt like I got a really good jump on the two that I saved,” Maurer said. “I was able to pick up where they were going.”
Ayoze, Danny Szetela, Eric Calvillo, Pablo Vranjicán, Lucky Mkosana and Starikov put their attempts home for New York.
From the start, it appeared the game would be an even one.
A scoreless first half saw chances come few and far between on both ends, with only good defense keeping the ball out of the net.
While the Cosmos offense couldn’t produce a shot on target in the first 45 minutes, Miami FC had a couple good attempts at goal, the best of which coming late in the half.
In the 44th minute, Miami midfielder Dylan Mares got the ball off a turnover and went one on one in the box against Maurer. Looking for the game’s first goal, Mares’ shot was deflected by Maurer, and center back Carlos Mendes came back to clear the ball out of the box.
The second half proved to be similar, with both sides getting chances with no results. In the 57th minute, Andrés Flores fired from long range, but Miami goalkeeper, Vega, was up to the task and made the save. Four minutes later, Emmanuel Ledesma’ strike from distance just rolled wide of the post as the Cosmos increased the pressure.
In the 74th minute, NASL Golden Boot winner Pinho found space alone for a shot, but Maurer made another tremendous save to keep the highest scoring team in the regular season off the board.
As time wound down, the Cosmos got a couple final chances to break through in regulation. Vega stopped Calvillo’s blast in the first minute of stoppage time. In the final minute, a Cosmos free kick was cleared, sending the game to extra time.
In the 98th minute, Starikov’s shot from outside the box eluded Vega’s dive, but hit hard off the far post and bounced out for a corner kick.
Five minutes later, Blake Smith got open in the box for a shot on Maurer, but the Cosmos goalkeeper was able to make the stop, cover the ball, and get the clearance as the first half of extra time ended without a goal.
The second half of stoppage time saw more shots toward both goals, but nothing close until the final whistle.
“We have to focus on the next game. The season is not over yet,” Savarese said. “We have to continue to work.”