Rafa Garcia celebrates his incredible, game-winning goal. (Photo courtesy of the Cosmos)

By Michael Lewis

Front RowSoccer.com Editor

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — Given his goal-scoring history, Rafael Garcia was a longshot to register a brace, let alone a dramatic, game-winning goal, that was, well, a long shot.

A very long one, in fact.

Yet, the Cosmos B midfielder defied the odds and accomplished both, the second goal with a nice, swift kick with his right foot. His wondrous 55-yard goal in the 82nd minute boosted the National Premier Soccer League team to a 2-1 victory over the Brooklyn Italians Tuesday night.

“Unbelievable,” Cosmos B head coach Carlos Mendes said. “Incredible, a moment of genius. You don’t see too many goals like that.”

“We were beaten by a moment of brilliance,” Italians head coach Dominic Casciato said.

Garcia? He had no great adjectives to describe what he had achieved. Heck, he was more humble than anything else.

“I wish I could take more credit,” Garcia said. “Honestly, I saw him [goalkeeper Tyron Matuta] off his line. I figured why not? Fortunately, it went in.”


Video courtesy of the Cosmos Facebook page

Let’s set things up.

Cosmos B, which was playing with 10 men after Bill Stevens’ red card late in the first half, had just given up the lead as Brooklyn’s Matthew McDonnell tallied in the 82nd minute.

The host side walked back to the center circle for the ensuing kickoff. Less than a minute later, team captain Danny Szetela took the kickoff and tapped the ball back to the former LA Galaxy midfielder. Garcia, noticing Matuta was off his line, took a couple of steps and from the center line floated a long ball towards the Italians goal, which landed in the upper left corner.

“I had the awesome assist,” Szetela jokingly said.

Then he became serious.

“Another level,” he said of the goal. “Hopefully, someone’s got that recorded because I would love to see it again. When he hit it, just the sound of it, poof that’s going in. Once the goalie started stumbling backwards, he wasn’t getting it.”

Szetela said he looked at Garcia.

“Rafa had that Ibrahimovic look on his face,” he said. “I just smiled and gave him a hug.”

He was referring to the LA Galaxy’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, whose Major League Soccer debut with the LA Galaxy last month was legendary with two goals and an assist.

To appreciate Garcia’s accomplishment, it is sufficient to say he is far from a goal-scoring machine. Entering the match, the 20-year-old midfielder had tallied seven times in 91 soccer games that included stints with FC Hasental (NPSL), Galaxy (MLS), LA Galaxy II (United Soccer League) and Cosmos B.

“I don’t score many goals,” Garcia said. “So, I guess that was special more so because I felt we played well enough to get the points. Unfortunately, they score. I kind of try my luck and we get three points and that’s the most important thing.”

Casciato liked the way his team held Garcia in check for the opening hour or so.

“Take nothing away from seven, he’s a very good player,” he said about Garcia, who wears No. 7. “A big part of our game plan today was stopping him from playing, from influencing the game. For a large part of the game we did that. well. In a couple of moments, we obviously switched off and he hurt us and that’s what good players do to you.”

The first time came in the 67th minute when Garcia drilled a shot from atop the penalty arc after passes from Giuseppe Barone and Bledi Bardic.

“Even though it was a great finish by Rafa, just the buildup and the work by Giuseppe and Bardic on the play, it was fun to watch,” Mendes said.

Garcia took some vital lessons from Cosmos B’s 3-2 elimination loss to the Italians in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup play-in match last week.

“I knew from playing them last week, I had a few chances from outside the 18,” he said. “I figured this time if I focused a little more, put them on frame, we’d get lucky and we did.”

In fact, Garcia took the defeat to heart and spoke to the coaches about his performance.

“We went down against them in the Open Cup game three times and the third one we didn’t bounce back,” he said. “I take that stuff to heart. One of my biggest attributes is that I’m a leader and I feel like i failed the team the last game in the Open Cup. I spoke to the coaches about it. I knew that if we conceded, my mentality was to uplift the team and get us going again. And that’s what I did.

Asked what went through his mind when the ball hit the upper 90, Garcia replied, “Once I hit it, if I am being brutally honest, I was just worried about closing the game out. My legs were tired, we were down a man, we’re not getting calls. The goal wasn’t even a big part of it. I was just trying to close the game out, defending for the next five-six minutes.”

Garcia tried to remain even-keel about his goals and the game, reminding a reporter that Cosmos B had a game against Greater Lowell NPSL FC at home Sunday.

“Look, we’re not going to get carried away with it,” he said. “Last week, according to many people, we were the worst team on the face of the earth. And now we win a game a down a man and it looks like we’re hot shots. We won’t get carried away with it. we’ll carry on what we’re doing and now we focus on Sunday’s game.”

Front Row Soccer editor Michael Lewis has covered 13 World Cups (eight men, five women), seven Olympics and 25 MLS Cups. He has written about New York City FC, New York Cosmos, the New York Red Bulls and both U.S. national teams for Newsday and has penned a soccer history column for the Guardian.com. Lewis, who has been honored by the Press Club of Long Island and National Soccer Coaches Association of America, is the former editor of BigAppleSoccer.com. He has written seven books about the beautiful game and has published ALIVE AND KICKING The incredible but true story of the Rochester Lancers. It is available at Amazon.com.