Darwin Espinal scored five goals in as many regular-season road games in 2018. (Photo courtesy of the Cosmos)
Darwin Espinal did not find the net in the Cosmos’ season-opening home win last Saturday night, but no worries.
He’s got a road match coming up against Kingston Stockade SC this Saturday night.
In contrast to many other players who might thrive at scoring goals at home, Espinal just happens to be a road warrior for the National Premier Soccer League club. Last season the 24-year midfielder scored five of his seven regular-season goals away from home.
“He had a bunch,” head coach Carlos Mendes said.
Even more impressive was that Espinal accomplished that in only five road matches. It certainly wasn’t planned that way and even Espinal did not know he was so productive on the road
“To be honest, I had no idea, I had no clue,” he said. “I just go out there and help my team, whichever way I can.”
Mendes didn’t have any reasons why, though he did not register any complaints.
“It’s a tough one to answer, why on the road he had so many,” he said. “He’s a guy we’re going to rely on. I thought on Saturday there were moments that he was good. He’ll keep improving. He’s a dangerous, dangerous player in the attacking third.”
Espinal began the 2018 NPSL campaign with a bang, connecting for a brace — one goal in each half — as the Cosmos registered a 4-0 win at Boston City FC last April 29. The game started the Cosmos on their way to a 10-0-0 regular season.
That quick start gave the Honduran native confidence for the rest of the season.
“A lot,” he said. “I started off strong. As a team you want to get that W out of your system the first game. As an attacking player, you want to get that goal out of your system and they just keep coming.”
As they did last year.
Espinal tallied one in the 5-0 victory at TSF FC on May 24, in the 4-2 result at the Rhode Island Reds on June 2, and in the 2-1 triumph over Hartford City FC on June 30. The only road game the 5-11, 163-lb. midfielder failed to celebrate one of his own scores was in the 4-2 victory at the Seacoast United Mariners on June 19.
Still, five goals in as many road games is pretty impressive.
“Darwin is a guy who is dangerous in the attacking third,” Mendes said. “You put him in good positions, and he’ll score goals. He’s gotten goals for us in preseason at home, too.”
“He is a player that’s great going forward when he’s facing the goal going 1-v-1, but he doesn’t need a lot of room. If he cuts in or has a yard of space, he can get a shot off or a cross off and finds the gaps and can play between the lines. I think he’s very clever. He’s a wide guy. He can come in a lot of different ways. That’s what’s impressed me the most about him.”
In Saturday’s 2-0 win over the New York Athletic Club, Espinal expected more of himself.
“I definitely can do better,” he said. “I didn’t think I was as sharp as I should have been, but it’s something to work on.”
He also felt the Cosmos could improve as the season wears on.
“It’s a work in progress,” he said. “Throughout the season you get to know your teammates better and where to find them in different situations. Getting out of our first game out of our systems with a W is a good start.”
So was attracting 3,750 to Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale, N.Y., last Saturday.
“Appreciative for them to come out and support us,” Espinal said. “It was a great atmosphere to play in and we’re just happy we gave them the W.”
Which is what it’s all about.
Espinal will get plenty of more opportunities to score some road goals as an expanded NPSL schedule has the Cosmos playing 14 games this spring and summer, which means seven away matches. Then there’s the NPSL Founders Cup, which will feature 10 regular-season contests from August through the end of October. Translated: five more road games.
He welcomed a season that could reach 30 games if the Cosmos go far in the postseason in both leagues and the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
“It’s just taking care of yourself,” he said. “If it’s a longer season, it’s more games. We have a lot of quality players that I’m sure we’ll be rotating. The coaches know what to do. They know how many games we’re playing, when we’re tired, when we’re not.”
After Saturday’s Kingston encounter, the Cosmos return home for a pair of home games at two venues.
They will host Black Rock FC in an Open Cup first-round encounter at Rocco B. Commisso Stadium at Columbia University in New York City Wednesday, May 8, at 7:30 p.m.
The Cosmos return to Mitchel to welcome Boston City FC for a 7 p.m. kickoff Saturday, May 11.