It was an exciting match as expected, and no one in the crowd of 7,217 in attendance left their seats before the final whistle as the RailHawks clung to a one-goal lead.
As the teams continued play for five minutes of announced extra time, an actual period that seemed even longer to some, New York eventually tied the game seconds before the final whistle blew.
It was the first-ever point the Cosmos earned against the RailHawks on their home pitch, and not one the team, nor their fans, wanted to relinquish.
“Disappointment – to not have three points which I thought we deserved,” Carolina head coach Colin Clarke said of his initial thoughts following the game.
“Great game of soccer – they’re a very, very good team – a very good team – a lot of talent, a lot of ability. I thought we set up and did a good job against them.”
Neil Hlavaty and Ty Shipalane led the scoring for Carolina, as goalkeeper Hunter Gilstrap made four saves on the night.
While trailing throughout regulation play, the Cosmos never relented – outchancing the RailHawks on attacks by a 10-3 margin which required the defense to divert play beyond the lines, and gave New York even more opportunities to get close with 15 corner kicks.
On paper, it seemed a lopsided match, but Carolina took advantage of the opportunities it created and finished on them.
Hlavaty’s first of the season came on a redirect in the crease following the hard work of Shipalane in the seventh minute of play.
The RailHawks forward outran and gained position on two Cosmos defenders, Ayoze and Leo Fernandes, in the right box and sent a low ball towards the goal which Hlavaty made no mistake in beating Cosmos keeper Jimmy Maurer with.
“I was able to beat two defenders and I saw three guys in the box – all of them in good positions,” Shipalane said.
“Neil made a good move underneath and I was able to slide it to Neil to put it in the back of the net.”
Pressed to pull even, New York increased its offensive pace and maintained possession in the Carolina half of the field for the next 10 minutes, keeping Gilstrap and his backline exceptionally busy.
The most dangerous attack came from Fernandes who let a dangerous 15-yard boot go that required an acrobatic, diving save from Gilstrap to maintain Carolina’s one-goal lead into the 12th minute.
Play got physical as the Cosmos’ Danny Szetela aggressively tackled Shipalane to earn the game’s first yellow card.
A total of eight yellow cards were shown, four to each side throughout.
A RailHawks’ free kick in the 30th minute from 30 yards out curled into Futty Danso’s waist in the box, but he couldn’t get control of the ball before Maurer smothered it to end the attack.
Play continued at an intense level and culminated in another foul, another yellow card, assessed to Raul after connecting on a high kick as Nazmi Albadawi challenged for the ball on the play.
Tempers flared as Walter Restrepo argued alongside Raul, and batted down a RailHawks player’s hand during the heated debate that eventually dissipated.
Novo’s work by the left corner flag found him fouled just outside the box in the 44th minute, but Carolina couldn’t convert on the free kick.
With two minutes added, the Cosmos narrowly missed on connecting on a free kick following a yellow card to Carolina’s Kupono Low.
Both teams made it to their locker rooms with the RailHawks leading 1-0 at halftime.
“They were always dangerous, good in possession, they controlled the pace of the first half more than I would have liked,” Clarke said.
“Second half, I thought we were very good.”
The fast and aggressive pace of play continued into the second 45 minutes of play as both teams put together more dangerous attacks on goal at both ends.
Yellow cards continued to be given by referee Nimi Saghafi, as Ayoze earned his in the 52nd minute.
The Cosmos put together an effective corner opportunity in the 64th minute that required Gilstrap to make a point-blank save on.
Lucky Mkosona’s header didn’t make it past the RailHawks keeper, even with Raul lurking on top of him for the rebound opportunity.
At the other end, Maurer had to pay close attention as Blake Wagner missed wide and was unable to close out on Carolina’s lone corner kick sequence of the game.
Restrepo quickly answered back for New York with a curling boot from 20 yards out that narrowly missed, traveling over the cross bar.
The RailHawks continued to hold on to their one-goal advantage.
Shipalane then made Restrepo and Ayoze his scapegoats, and extended Carolina’s lead to 2-0 in the 76th minute.
He single-handedly outworked the two New York defenders at the top of the box from the right before unloading a curling shot with his left that beat Maurer cleanly.
A yellow to Wagner a few minutes later gave the Cosmos an opportunity to cut into their deficit.
Once again, Gilstrap was in position to pull down Mads Stokkelien’s header off the kick.
Thinking that the game was in hand, Clarke subbed Nacho Novo out of the game for newly acquired Dzenan Catic.
The forward didn’t take long to be noticed as he was left all alone and Wagner found him open in the left half of the box.
Catic’s challenge was thwarted by Maurer who got a hand on the shot attempt to avoid falling three goals behind.
In hindsight, that was the insurance opportunity that Carolina needed to put the game away, but it never materialized.
As five minutes of extra time was announced, the Cosmos finally got on the board thanks to an own-goal from Danso – a broken play that ensued amongst a crowd along the Carolina goal line.
Carolina’s lead was cut to one goal, 2-1, with only minutes remaining according to the clock on the television broadcast screen shown on the video board.
During those final minutes, in what seemed an eternity for extra time to expire and the game to end, Flores connected from just outside the top middle of the box and forced the ball through a crowd of bodies and into the goal.
The Cosmos had tied the game 2-2 and sent their entire bench to the sideline to celebrate with Flores while stunning the crowd into silence.
A chorus of boos ensued following Saghafi’s final whistle blast to end the match.
“I think it was a good game for the fans to watch,” Cosmos head coach Giovanni Savarese said.
“It was a battle – nothing different of when we come down here. Carolina gave us a very good game – a difficult game. Our guys fought until the end and found the goals, at least two, to bring a point back home.”
Many thought, including Shipalane and Clarke, that the final extra time duration was extended considerably and allowed the Cosmos the opportunity to tie the game.
However, regardless of opinions and feelings, not playing until the final whistle was what cost Carolina the opportunity to claim the full three points they worked hard to try to win.
“We weren’t good enough, seeing the game out and closing the game out when we we’re two-nil up with two minutes to go,” Clarke said.
“We weren’t good enough of making better decisions. Take the ball into the corner to move a bit of clock. Be smarter with it – we’ve beat better. We gave up too many easy fouls, gave them opportunities to put balls in our box. Didn’t play our lines well enough – it became a bit of a panic. We just needed to take a breath, be composed, and be professional – be better than what we were…We weren’t good enough to close the game out.”
CAR: Gilstrap, Low, Danso, Tobin, Knight, Hlavaty, Thompson, Shipalane (Nurse-87th), Anderson (Wagner-60th), Albadawi, Novo (Catic-85th)
NYC: Maurer, Ayoze (Stokkelien-78th), Mendes (C), Roversio, Gorskie, Szetela (Flores-62nd), Senna (Moffat-10th), Fernandes, Raul, Restrepo, Mkosana
GOALS: CAR: Hlavaty (Shipalane) – (7th), Shipalane – (76th); NYC: Danso (own goal) – (90th+), (Flores) – (90th+)
CAUTIONS: CAR: Low (45th), Gilstrap (74th), Wagner (79th), Nurse (90th); NYC: Szetela (30th), Raúl (32nd), Ayoze (52nd), Mkosana (67th)
EJECTIONS: CAR: –; NYC: —