After 90 minutes and four rounds of penalty kick, the NY Pancyprian Freedoms clinched their eighth Cosmopolitan Soccer League Championship over Cedar Star Academy, 1-1 (3-1 on penalties), to claim the 2018-19 title on Sunday night. This is the second year in a row that the Stars have fallen in the title game in penalty kicks.
The Freedoms Technical Director Panayiotis Onisiforou said after the match that the title, the team’s first since 2011, had been a long time coming. After a dominant season seeing the players rewarded was all worth it and he’s incredibly proud of the result they put up.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Onisiforou said “For our club it's been something of a ritual. We’ve always been in or around (the title picture). But the last six years we’ve struck out… I think we deserved it this year.
“I think from the first game we were on top, we lead all the way,” he continued looking back on the 40 point, one loss regular season the team achieved. “It was obviously the best two teams in the final. Definitely Cedar Stars are a different team to what we saw in our last league game we played them and to what we saw against the Greeks. They came out hard, they wanted it. I just think overall, over the whole year, I think the right outcome came through.”
Cedar Star forward Chris Katona agreed after the game that the other team just wanted it more. Despite his team team holding a lead going into the second half the Freedoms constant pressure finally paid off when a shot hit off him and into the net for an own goal in the 55th minute.
“I guess they just wanted it a little more than we did,” Katona said. “We had urgency that we got a little complacent that we were up 1-0. We were dominant and in our favor. We had a couple more opportunities where the keeper had a great save.”
The Stars got on the board first following a back and forth first half. The Freedoms high pressure defense pushed CSA into multiple corner kick attempts and multiple looks at goal, but Mathew Nigro got his team on the board with a low shot from the top of the box to the left corner. Nigro, mostly known as a set-up man and who finished the regular season tied for sixth most assists in the league (6), had only scored one other time this season for his team.
The Stars had more chances overall in the first 45, including one in the 16th minute where Katona crossed into the Freedoms box where a waiting teammate’s scissorkick shot went wide of the net. For the Freedoms, holding the game to only one goal and picking their chances allowed them to stay in it. Goalkeeper and former New York Cosmos player Hector Guerrero made multiple saves for his team and directed his backline while the offense battled upfront, drawing three set piece chances and nearly getting the first goal in the 24th minute with a wide shot while under pressure in the box.
“They just had high energy,” Onisiforou said about Cedar Star. “We know Katona, we know (Daniel) Cordeiro, we know Nigro, we know they’re full of energy. They’re always going to be a threat one on one (and) they’re a great side, great players. I think they only know one pace and they were going to go out you and it was more like two heavyweights slugging at each other.”
The second half started more in the Freedoms favor, earning two corner kick and coming close a few times within the first ten minutes. A third corner kick in the 55th minute finally went the teams way after chaos in the box saw the ball hit off of Katona and into the net for a CSA own goal.
Katona nearly made up for his mistake twice before the full time whistle. Not long after the goal, he got clear of the backline and received the ball on the left side on the field. Under pressure from a defender, he stops and gets a shot off with his left foot as the ball sailed wide left.
Later in the 77th, with his team getting a majority of the time with the ball, one of his teammates slammed a shot from the right corner of the penalty area. The ball sailed over a jumping Guerrero and deflected off the crossbar before landing just before the goal line according to the official. Katona ran up from the left post and headed in the rebound but was called offside by the linesman. Further replays of the play shed some doubt on the call, resurrecting memories of last year’s final where the Stars were denied a game winning goal / advantage due to a controversial whistle, and Katona admitted his teammates were frustrated.
“It just sucks ya know,” he admitted. “(We) put all this time, preparation, and effort going into the finals and it’s just unfortunate. Calls (like) that determine the game yet again. We just gotta move onto it. We got another, bigger competition in the summer and you just gotta look forward to the next game in preparation.”
Following the match and after time had been taken to assess the call after viewing the tape, Cedar Star officials informed the league that the referees admit the wrong call was made on the field by the linesman. Katona looked to be onside when the ball was shot by his teammate and his header into the net should have been allowed.
After the full 90 minutes, both teams lineup for penalty kicks where Guerrero came up big for his team stopping the first and fourth shots, the latter coming from Katona for the win. The Freedoms scored all three of their shots while CSA only made one, the second, having two saved and one go over the crossbar.