Carlos Mendes: “It’s a good point. I think the team played very well.” (Photo courtesy of the Cosmos)
All things considered, head coach Carlos Mendes thought his Cosmos did well to take home a point from the Detroit City FC encounter Saturday night.
The Cosmos overcame a one-goal deficit and were forced to play the final 19 minutes of the NPSL Members Cup match at Keyworth Stadium in Hamtracmck, Mich. a man down. The result left the Cosmos (4-0-2, 14 points) atop the six-team lead with four games remaining in the season. Detroit (3-0-1, 10) has two games in hand.
“It’s a good point,” Mendes said. “I think the team played very well. That was a very good team we played against in a difficult environment. The second half, we really controlled the game.”
The Cosmos were hampered when team leading goal-scorer Isaac Acuna was red carded for bumping Detroit’s Marcello Borges and knocking him to the ground in the 71st minute.
“I watched it back and I didn’t see too much in it,” said Mendes, who was impressed that his side did not fall apart. “The team didn’t lose focus. We stayed compact. We were able to get the point, which I thought was very, very important. Overall, a very good performance.
“We limited their opportunities because they’re a very dynamic team in the midfield. They have good movement. Obviously, you want to win but considering when being down … If we wouldn’t have had that [red card], we had the momentum and we had some good opportunities. Maybe it would have been different.”
If there was any silver lining to the red card, it was awarded to a forward and not a defender or midfielder. Translated: Mendes did not have to reconfigure is formation drastically, if at all.
“Our shape was very, very good,” he said. “And even in the moment when you lose that striker who is the highest up, when you go down a man, usually what happens is that you have to adjust and leave the space up top. We didn’t have to change too much. We thought the shape and attitude of the team was very good and that’s why we didn’t make too many changes. The guys fought hard.”
Even though the opening kickoff was held up a half hour due to lightning, the atmosphere at Keyworth was electric for the match.
Mendes gave props to Darwin Espinal, who scored the lone Cosmos goal off one of his many free kick opportunities in the 57th minute to equalize.
Both of Espinal’s goals this season have come on the road against Detroit-based teams. He also tallied against the Michigan Stars in a 2-0 win in Pontiac, Mich. on Aug. 31.
“He’s reading the game really well,” Mendes said. “Darwin is on the ball, going at people. He is one of the most talented players in the league and on the team for sure. He’s finding the spaces and pockets on the field and making himself available, just reading the game so well. You’re noticing him coming up in different areas of the field. Even in the final third, he’s got a nose for the goal. He’s taking on people. He’s putting shots on net. He could have had more than one and keeper came up big and made some big saves on him. So, he’s been excellent and for me, probably the best player on the field.”
If there was one down note, it was that the Cosmos failed to cash in on their other set piece chances, of which there were many.
“It’s also about capitalizing,” Mendes said. “We came close a couple of times. Then they have one corner kick in the second half and they score on the first one and they excuse. We definitely did some good things but those opportunities, whether they are set pieces or the run of play, you have to capitalize. In these tight games it makes a difference. Luckily, we came right back.”
Mendes felt the crowd’s enthusiasm helped pump up both teams.
“Players love to play in those situations in a good environment, with fans on top of you,” he said. “You could feel the excitement. If you don’t get up for that game against a top team, I don’t think you’re in the right business. I think the team was excited. They embraced the challenge. That’s what we spoke about before the game. It was a great game overall for both teams. The fans definitely pushed the level and energy.”
The Cosmos host Chattanooga FC at Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale, N.Y. on Saturday at 7 p.m.
“You have to make sure you take care of business the rest of these next couple of weeks,” Mendes said.