The Cosmos celebrate winning the North Atlantic Conference final. (Photo courtesy of the Cosmos)
UNIONDALE, N.Y. — The Cosmos signed Ansi Agolli to give the team leadership and experience.
On Wednesday night, the Albanian national team captain gave the team something else: a golazo on his first Cosmos goal to lift the team to a 1-0 victory over the Brooklyn Italians in the North Atlantic Conference final of the National Premier Soccer League playoffs at Mitchel Athletic Complex in Wednesday night.
Agolli volleyed home Danny Szetela’s right-wing cross from 25 yards into the upper right corner in the 72nd minute.
“Danny gave me a great pass,” Agolli said. “I don’t think twice in this moment. I’m happy for scoring this goal. Most importantly, I am happy for my teammates because tonight we gave everything.”
Right back Kevin Venegas set Szetela through on the right flank and the Cosmos captain motored into the penalty area before lofted a picture-perfect cross to Agolli on the opposite side of the field.
“Most of the game our crosses were coming near post and they had a lot of numbers near post,” Szetela said. “I had a little bit of time. I picked up my head and saw that they were coming close to the first post and I played the ball to the 18. Honestly, I thought he was going to take a touch and then hit it. But he did it first time. You can’t hit it any better than he did.
“He just made a perfect connection. I’ve seen many big goals in my life, but it was one of the greatest first-time volleys that I’ve seen, especially the angle of the goal. It looks like it’s going to go five yards outside the post and it just curls right into the open corner.”
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Cosmos head coach Carlos Mendes called the goal “fantastic, a massive goal for us because it was a tight game.”
Agolli, who is left-footed, hasn’t scored many goals with his right foot. He said it was one of his favorite goals.
The Cosmos entered the game as favorites after recording a 1-0-1 mark against their rivals during the regular season. That included a 4-1 win at the Met Oval last month.
“It was not so easy game, a tough game against a good opponent, a very good prepared opponent,” Agolli said.
The Cosmos dominated the match but could not put the Italians away until Agolli’s goal.
Goalkeeper Paul Blanchette, who recorded the clean sheet, was not severely tested, but commanded the box and even ventured outside of it to head or boot away a ball that could have turned into a dangerous play.
“He was good, coming off his line and cleaning up a couple of things that were over the backline and balls that were 50-50 balls,” Mendes said. “He did a good job of reaching that. It was important for us because we’re in control and we were in possession of the game. You have to be alert. He did a very good job.”
While Mendes rotated goalkeepers during the regular season, Blanchette will backstop the Cosmos during the postseason.
“He obviously has proven that he’s doing well in the spot,” Mendes said. “Everyone has done well who has stepped in. But right now we’re confident with Paul. Want to keep some consistency, especially this part of the year. We’ll see moving forward. Great job from the group.”
The Cosmos will play the winner of Saturday’s FC Baltimore and FC Motown match in the Northeast Regional Final at Mitchel next week.
“We’re looking forward now,” Agolli said. “Games will be like that. It’s playoff time. One small mistake will put you out. You must be prepared for these tight games.”