Darwin Espinal: “I think when you don’t score the first few games it’s always in the back of your head. You don’t want it to be that way.” (Photo courtesy of the Cosmos)
UNIONDALE, N.Y. – For someone who had made a reputation of scoring goals for the Cosmos in 2018, Darwin Espinal had gone through the longest drought during his two-year tenure.
He snapped a personal eight-game scoreless streak by connecting for the first goal in the 2-0 road win at the Michigan Stars in Pontiac, Mich. in NPSL Members Cup action Saturday night.
“It has been a while,” Espinal said. “I was just happy it went in, honestly. Just happy with it.”
It was more of a relief for the 24-year-old midfielder-forward. Espinal tallied seven times for the club last season.
“Yeah, yeah, definitely,” he said. “I think when you don’t score the first few games it’s always in the back of your head. You don’t want it to be that way.”
His last goal came in the 64th minute of the Cosmos’ 5-1 5-1 victory over Boston City FC on June 15. That was 2 1/2 months ago
What made it more confounding was that Espinal was putting himself into positions to score, but either shot wide or at the opposing goalkeeper.
“Especially as an offensive player I think you need to be getting on the score sheet quite often if you’re playing among the top three, which I was this game. Goals win games.”
Espinal struck in the 35th minute to lift the Cosmos into a 1-0 lead off a Bledi Bardic feed from the right flank at Ultimate Soccer Arenas in Pontiac, Mich.
“It started with [newcomer Michael] Kafari,” Espinal said. “He slid it to Bledi and he played it back into the box and I just came into it.”
Outside of Espinal himself, no one was happier for Espinal to score than head coach Carlos Mendes.
“He’s a very dangerous player,” he said. “It’s important for him to get that goal, to get that confidence. It was a very big goal for us. Hopefully, that leads to more. He’s working hard. Je’s put himself in a lot of good spots, in a lot of good situations prior to this game. That’s something that’s just a matter of time. You see a talented player; he’s getting himself in good areas in the attacking third. Saturday was a great goal, a great ball by Bledi and a great finish.”
It didn’t help Espinal that he was sidelined with hamstring and groin issues during the stretch run for the NPSL season for three games, which slowed down his progress and potential production. He wound up as a second-half substitute for four games before rounding back into match fitness.
“Of course, they’re difficult because you feel like its healed and you do a wrong movement and it’s not,” Espinal said. “Definitely frustrated, hopefully it doesn’t happen for the rest of the season.”
Some good news for Espinal and some bad news for the Cosmos’ opponents. The Honduran native is feeling just fine these days and just getting his rhythm back.
“I’m starting to feel 100 percent,” he said. “With the injuries and stuff, it was up and down a lot and I got reinjured a few times, but now I’m 100 percent. I’m happy about that.”
Espinal liked the first-place Cosmos’ (2-0-1, 7 points) chances of winning the Members Cup crown.
“It’s almost our responsibility,” he said. “We don’t have a choice. That’s how we’re looking at it and not drop any points for the rest of the season.”
The last two NPSL regular seasons, the Cosmos were the top-ranked team among some 90 sides, but a championship has eluded them. So, winning a title would be a big deal.
“It would be great,” he said. “That’s what we’re all working and playing for — a title.”
Epsinal and his Cosmos teammates return home to host Napa Valley 1839 FC at Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale, N.Y. Saturday, Sept. 7 at 7 p.m. They remain home to welcome the Stars to Mitchel Saturday Sept. 14 at 7 p.m.