By Dylan Butler
Henry Lopez was given two jobs to do when he entered the match in the 71st minute – to neutralize San Antonio’s Javier Saavedra down the right flank and to be dangerous in the attacking third.
The 21-year-old Guatemalan midfielder did both, netting the winning goal in the second minute of stoppage time to lift the New York Cosmos to a dramatic 2-1 victory over the San Antonio Scorpions in the first ever North American Soccer League match between the two sides in front of 6,852 fans Saturday night at Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium.
Lopez headed a Marcos Senna cross past San Antonio goalkeeper Pat Hannigan from 12 yards out as the Cosmos improved to 2-0 at home.
“I saw everybody was fighting at the end of the game trying to score a goal to have the win and when Marcos hit it in the box I just tried to run between the two big guys and score,” Lopez said.
It was the Cosmos second victory in their second incarnation in the North American Soccer League and both wins have come via a stoppage time goal. Alessandro Noselli netted the winner in New York’s first game in nearly 30 years, a 2-1 victory over the Fort Lauderdale Strikers on Aug. 3.
“The game was different – they created chances, our goalkeeper was able to be big today in two or three situations and we also created more opportunities, found more spaces behind the other team,” Cosmos coach Giovanni Savarese said. “In some ways it was a different game … [but] the score was the same and the drama at the end was the same.”
Already in his burgeoning career, Lopez has proven he has a flair for the dramatic. On April 6, 2011, he scored what proved to be the game-winner in a 2-1 victory over the United States that booked Guatemala’s passage into the FIFA U-20 World Cup.
“I think those two goals are the best feelings in my career,” Lopez said. “The first one because we qualified for the first time in Guatemalan history to the World Cup. That was really amazing and today I’m very happy because this is my first professional goal with a big team like the Cosmos. Those two feelings are the best in my life.”
Lopez came on for Diomar Diaz, who struck late in the first half to give the New York Cosmos (2-1-1) a 1-0 lead in the 42nd minute.
San Antonio defender Greg Janicki tackled the ball away from Ayoze in the box, but it rolled out to an opportunistic Diaz and the Venezuelan midfielder blasted the ball past Hannigan from 16 yards to give the Cosmos a 1-0 lead and end a 263-minute scoreless streak.
San Antonio (0-4-0) was reduced to 10 men when Janicki received his second yellow card for a tackle from behind on Diaz in the 52nd minute. Still, the Scorpions managed to equalize in the 65th minute when an unmarked Tomasz Zahorski knocked in a cross from Lyle Martin at the back post.
Zahorski nearly added a second goal, but Cosmos goalkeeper Kyle Reynish did well to come off his line to stymie the Polish forward.
On the other end, Hannigan also came up with some big saves, including robbing Ayoze of a diving header from the edge of the six-yard box in the first half and getting a piece of a Lopez header off a cross from Senna in the 78th minute.
However the duo wouldn’t be denied in the waning moments of the match.
“I was happy for him. It was a huge opportunity, he took it and he triumphed,” Senna said of Lopez. “He’s a big player, but there’s also a lot of players on the team who are very strong in their own right, even if they’re not the starting players. Everybody contributes.”
While the fans left Shuart Stadium happy following Lopez’s last-minute heroics, Senna wished it didn’t have to come to that yet again.
“We don’t really like this type of suffering,” Senna said. “It’s unfortunate that it’s the second time in the final minutes that its gotten to this, but we need to learn from our mistakes and keep progressing as the season goes.”
Still looking for their first win, the Scorpions will host Minnesota United FC next Saturday, while the Cosmos, which snapped a two-game winless streak, will head to Edmonton Sept. 1.
Complete Match Report (Box Score)