By Michael Lewis
NEW YORK — As far as yellow cards go, this one was worth it in more ways than one.
Only seconds after heading home the game-winning goal deep into stoppage time against Black Rock FC, Cosmos striker Bledi Bardic ripped off his shirt and raced toward the 5 Points supporters in the stands at Rocco B. Commisso Soccer Stadium Wednesday night.
Bardic was elated that the Cosmos were able to pull out this Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match, 2-1, after losing a one-goal lead against an amateur side on home turf.
He was immediately booked with a yellow card. Taking one’s shirt off, even in a goal celebration, is a no-no in soccer.
“It was worth it,” Bardic said. “I’ll take any yellow if it’s for the team.
“Probably, probably the best yellow card.”
It turned out to be the first time the Cosmos won an Open Cup game since 2016 as they snapped three-game losing streak in the competition. They were eliminated in the first round in 2017 and were ushered out by the Brooklyn Italians last year.
“It was very important because the last few years we lost the first game,” Bardic said. “It was an important game for us to go through. Now, we focus on Saturday and the NPSL and the U.S. Open Cup Tuesday.”
New York hosts Boston City FC at Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale, N.Y. Saturday at 7 p.m. before taking on Hartford Athletic in the second round of the Open Cup in Hartford, Conn. Tuesday.
The Cosmos got out of Commisso by the skin of their teeth after dominating the first half, but only walking into the locker room with only a 1-0 edge after captain Danny Szetela had his penalty kick saved.
“The first half was great,” Bardic said. “It could have been 3-0 for us. It happens in soccer. Sometimes when you don’t score, the team’s going to come back. After the 60th minute, we slowed down a little bit. They put a little pressure on us. We were happy we got the goal in the end and we won. It’s important.”
In the second half, the Cosmos lost whatever mojo they had, and they allowed Black Rock FC, a USL League Two team comprised mostly of prep school and college players, to gain confidence and get back into the match. Komar Martinez-Paiz equalized, slotting the ball past Santiago Castano in the 87th minute.
“It was a tough moment because you don’t want to go to extratime,” Bardic said. “You’re wining the whole game. They get a goal. It was a bad moment when we conceded a goal. But we kept going and we found the back of the net and that’s all that matters.”
Six minutes into stoppage time, left back Ansi Agolli swung a corner kick into the box. Bardic, who replaced the Cosmos’ first-half goal-scorer, Aaron Dennis, in the 63rd minute, got his head on it and nodded it past goalkeeper Leland Gazo to start the celebration.
“It was a great ball from Ansi,” Bardic said. “We needed that goal bad. The ball just came to me and I just headed it in. I’m happy to score.”
Bardic bolted toward the 5 Points with his shirt in his fist. Fans ran onto the field to congratulate him on his first goal of the season. There was one problem — the game wasn’t quite finished yet.
“It was good,” he said. “The fans, no matter what game there is, they’re here. I love the fans. The love they have for us, it’s incredible.”
In the Cosmos opening two National Premier Soccer League games this season, Bardic struggled to find the net. Which is a lot to say for a man who led the team with 12 goals in 11 appearances last season.
So, scoring a goal, especially a game-winner, is good for one’s soul and self-confidence.
“It’s huge, it’s huge,” Bardic said. “When you go through these moments, your belief goes down a little bit. It was important to get this goal. I think its the right time.”
It sure ended any frustration that Bardic had during league play.
“That’s something that’s hard as a forward,” he said. “You go through those moments. You have to be patient. The goals are going to come. You’ve got to work hard and when the goal comes, the goal comes. I knew the goals was going to come. but it was important for me to get the goal. The most important was to win. I don’t care whoever scored the goals, as long as we go through.”
For head coach Carlos Mendes, it couldn’t have happened to a better player or person than Bardic.
“All strikers, they need to get a goal, they need to be in front of the net,” he said. “We kept saying that. He was putting himself in good spots, he was getting opportunities, which is most important, and that the goal would come. Hopefully, that’s now a confidence builder and that he keeps going from here. strikers, when they find the back of the net, its a mentality. The confidence grows. We have full confidence that Bledi’s going to be himself and he’s going to get a lot of goals for us. I’m happy he did because he has been working hard.”