Zaire Bartley has scored three goals in four playoff games for Cosmos B. (Photo courtesy of the Cosmos)
By Michael Lewis
HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — After scoring off the bench in the Cosmos B’s first two playoff games, it would have been difficult for Zaire Bartley to top himself as a starter in the Northeast Region semifinal Wednesday night.
He found a way, not once, but twice.
Bartley tallied twice — on one in each side of halftime — to lift Cosmos B to a 2-0 victory over a determined FC Frederick side in the National Premier Soccer League playoffs at Hofstra Soccer Stadium.
“I’ll tell you right now. I’m back in form,” Bartley said. “I’ll give out a full 100 [percent] and try to help the team win as much as possible.”
Bartley will have an opportunity when Cosmos B hosts FC Motown, 3-0 winners over FC Baltimore Wednesday night, at Commisso Stadium in Manhattan Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Bartley’s production has alleved New York’s worries of playing without team-leading goal-scorer Bledi Bardic (12 goals), who has been sidelined with a hamstring injury. Not too shabby, considering Bartley finished the regular season with one goal in limited playing time.
Asked why he decided to give Bartley his first start of the year, 13 games into the season, head coach Carlos Mendes replied, “We wanted to have a little bit more presence in the attack to go with two forwards, be a little more dangerous. We felt that last game we struggled, struggled to get chances. Zaire is someone who can get in behind and stretch the game. Obviously, it paid off. He did very well. He was excellent and I’m happy for him because he deserves it.”
It turned out to be the Cosmos B’s best peformance in three postseason matches.
“I thought overall, the team’s attitude, mentality was better than last game,” Mendes said. “We deserved it.”
The hosts dominated the opening half in possession, shots and quality of attempts, yet the young Frederick side managed to do everything in its power to hold off the favored side — until seconds before the break.
After firing shots to the left, right and over the net and forcing goalkeeper Phillip Breno to make three saves, Cosmos B finally found the net a minute into first-half stoppage.
Midfielder Darwin Espinal shuffled off a short pass to Bartley in the penalty area and the Bronx born fired a shot past Breno into the far post for a 1-0 lead.
“We did a good team high press,” Bartley said. “Darwin pressed the ball, laid it off to me and I just finished it.”
It was Bartley’s third playoff goal in as many appearances, the first two coming off the bench against the Elm City Express and Brooklyn Italians.
“We felt like we deserved it,” Mendes said. “We were playing well. We were pressing. We missed a couple of opportunities. So to get a goal right before halftime is huge.”
Cosmos B thought it had doubled the lead in the 69th minute as Wojciech Wojcik put in an Espinal feed from close range, but the striker was ruled to be offside.
Bartley made sure the score rose to 2-0 in the 77th minute. Instead of passing to Jalen Brown on his left, team captain Danny Szetela feed the streaking Bartley on his right. Bartley raced to the top of the area and drilled a shot past Breno for a vital insurance tally.
“It was a good play from Danny,” Bartley said. “He slipped me through. I cut a guy and I finished it.”