Wojciech Wojcik and John Neeskens combined for the go-ahead goal. (Photo courtesy of the Cosmos)
By Michael Lewis
HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — Talk about keeping it late and dramatic.
Wojciech Wojcik and Zaire Bartley scored two minutes apart in the second extratime to lift Cosmos B to a thrilling 4-2 win over the Elm City Express in the North Atlantic Conference semifinals at Hofstra Soccer Stadium Wednesday night.
The result meant Cosmos B advanced in the National Premier Soccer League playoffs and will host the Brooklyn Italians in the conference final at Commisso Stadium in Manhattan Saturday at 7:30 p.m. The Italians defeated Hartford City FC in their semifinal at home, 3-0.
The victory also meant Cosmos B would advance to the Northeast Region playoff bracket regardless of Saturday’s result as a wildcard team because they had accrued the most points per game in the region during the regular season.
Wednesday night’s game here had plenty of twists and turns as Elm City, the defending champions, gave Cosmos B a fight and made the hosts sweat on more than one occasion.
It might have been a Pyrrhic victory for Cosmos B as it lost leading goal-scorer Bledi Bardic to a leg injury early in the second half.
Without Bardic, Cosmos B persevered and dominated the second half and both extratime before breaking open a 2-2 deadlock.
First, Wojcik headed in a John Neekens left-wing feed from seven yards for a 3-2 edge in the 110th before Bartley, a second-half substitute, fired home a pass by captain Danny Szetela in the 112th minute.
For the first time this season, Cosmos B found itself chasing the game as Elm City scored first in the 14th minute. Tony Asante drilled a shot off the left post that rebounded to Tyler Carlos, who celebrated his 25th birthday by slotting the ball home past goalkeeper Kevin Tenjo as the visitors grabbed a 1-0 advantage.
The hosts looked out of sync in the early going as it could not penetrate the Express defense to place a shot on goal.
When Cosmos B finally did put a shot on target, it managed to equalize in the 29th minute. Right back Jonathan Borrajo lofted the ball into the penalty area. Bardic beat his man with a header on the left side of the penalty area before rifling a shot past goalkeeper Oscar Acosta-Mendez for a 1-1 tie.
Bardic was on target again in the 40th minute with Cosmos B’s second shot of the game, right-footed a Jalen Brown feed from the right flank for a 2-1 edge. That gave Bardic 12 for the season and five goals in his last two matches.
Five minutes later, it was Elm City celebrating again as Carlos powered a line-drive free kick from 28 yards over the defensive wall past Tenjo to the near post for a 2-2 halftime deadlock.
Cosmos B suffered a devastating loss early in the second half when Bardic went down with a leg injury. Travis Pittman, who played once during the regular season, replaced the striker in the 49th minute.
The pace picked up in the final 15 minutes of regulation.
Tenjo came up big in the 75th minute, denying Shaq Saunchez a goal.
During a quick counter a minute later, Bartley, while flying through the midfield, was tripped up by Chris Carneiro, who was awarded a yellow card. Many Cosmos B players thought Carneiro should have seen red, but he remained in the match.
Tyler Turner came close to giving the visitors the lead as he curled a hard shot toward the Cosmos B match that ricocheted off the crossbar in the 81st minute.