Jimmy Maurer celebrates after making a save in the shootout at the 2016 NASL The Championship final. (Dennis Schneidler/USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
UNIONDALE, N.Y. — After yet another memorable Jimmy Maurer performance in a knockout-round game, the praise came flowing in from teammates and coach.
Here’s just a sampling:
“The bigger the game is, he steps up,” captain Carlos Mendes said. “He was huge for us.”
“He performed perfect,” midfielder Andres Flores said. “I think it was a 10-point game for him.”
“Miami was one of the best games I’ve seen him play for the Cosmos,” midfielder Danny Szetela said. “Jimmy is one of the best goalies in all of North America.”
“At one point, I was like, wow. Speechless,” forward Lucky Mkosona said. “Phenomenal performance by him. He showed up when we needed him.”
“No surprises,” head coach Giovanni Savarese said. “He’s always a goalkeeper who knows how to deliver in the moments that the team needs him the most.”
Well, he didn’t sound that impressed with his performance, which included stoning heavily favored Miami FC with some spectacular saves over 120 scoreless minutes and two more vital stops in the shootout, which the Cosmos won, 6-5, to reach the North American Soccer League’s The Championship final.
As well as he played, the 29-year-old Maurer claimed it was far from a perfect performance.
“The game wasn’t perfect,” he said after training at the Mitchel Athletic Complex Wednesday, remembering when he had a “bad touch” on one play. “I had to tackle the ball away from [Mason] Trafford in the six.
“There are things that happened that weren’t perfect. It’s a pass, or different things. There’s no such thing as a perfect game. There’s moments you think you could have done something better. You can have moments that hopefully you did something well. And that was this game. Now try to focus on the next play. It’s always about the next play. And you do your best there.”
Well, what do you want from someone who is his own worst critic?
“It’s about having a short memory about the good and the bad,” Maurer said.
We like to talk about goalkeepers being in the zone, so the three-time NASL champion was asked about what a zone was, at least to him.
“You like to always think you’re staying focused and staying in the game,” he said. “You have some games like that when things are coming off for you and make one save, you make another, and you make another, and things start rolling.
“But at the same time, it can be tricky. You have to be careful about feeling too good about yourself, either. Then you can lose focus that way as well. It’s one of those things that you try to take it step by step, whether you made a mistake, made a save, you’re just trying to clear it out of your mind and focus what you exactly have to do for that next play.”
For the third time in his career, Maurer excelled in a penalty-kick tie-breaker.
He accomplished that feat for the Cosmos against New York City FC in 2015, helping eliminate the Major League Soccer club from the Lamar Hunt/U.S. Open Cup.
He continued to rise to the occasion in the 2016 NASL final, starring in the shootout to best Indy Eleven.
And then came Sunday’s stellar performance as Maurer twice denied Miami players in the shootout in The Championship semifinals.
Maurer said that the shootout “excites me. I get going for it. I enjoy the challenge of the penalties, of the mind games.”
“It’s 1 v 1 out there, everyone’s watching you and you’re trying to win the battle,” he added. “I enjoy it. I don’t know what it is about it, I don’t know what it is about me.”
Still, Mauer felt he could have done even better against Miami FC.
“I’m annoyed with a couple of penalties that I thought I should have saved,” he said. “Went the right way, I couldn’t get enough push here. The other one, ah, I went the wrong way because I went a little bit too early. It’s a battle. I really thought I was going to save three of them. I saved two. But again, that’s the way it goes.”
Now the Cosmos are going to the NASL final, playing at the San Francisco Deltas at Kezar Stadium Sunday (beIN, 8 p.m. ET).
If New York wins, it will be its and fourth crown in five years since returning to competitive soccer in 2013. Maurer, who was a reserve on the first title side, has backstopped the club to the past two championships.
Maurer wouldn’t talk about what another title would mean to him and his career or the tumult on whether the NASL or the Cosmos will play their final game ever this weekend with the organizations’ ongoing legal battles. He is concentrating on one thing and one thing, only.
“Right now, I’m really looking at it as San Francisco on Sunday,” he said. “Maybe afterwards we’ll have a drink, sit back and reflect on it a little more, but right now we’re just focused on the job at hand and what we’ve got to do. I don’t really see it right now. I’m thinking about ‘[Deltas forward] Tom Heinemann can do this, [forward] Pablo Dyego likes to that. We’ve got to watch it here. This is where we can take advantage. This is what we’ve got to be careful of.’ That is where the focus is right now.”