Cosmos coach Giovanni Savarese interrupted his team's celebration of its 1-0 victory over Minnesota United on Saturday night, which gave the players another reason to celebrate.
"Guys, listen, congrats for the effort you put out," he said. "The other team tied and we sit in first place."
The players applauded and learned they would not have to practice again until Tuesday.
The other team was the Tampa Bay Rowdies, which played the Carolina RailHawks to a 2-2 draw as the first-year Cosmos (3-1-3, 12 points) found themselves atop the North American Soccer League at the fall season's midway point.
Midfielder Sebastian Guenzatti headed home defender Hunter Freeman's right-wing cross in the 77th minute to lift the Cosmos before 6,081 spectators at James M. Shuart Stadium at Hofstra.
The fall season champion will book a spot against the spring season champions, the Atlanta Silverbacks, in Soccer Bowl in November, but Savarese refused to take anything for granted, despite the good news.
"There are still seven more games to play," he told reporters. "We still have to work hard every match."
"We're in the right way," Guenzatti said. "We're one of the hardest-working groups. Humble. So we'll keep going this way and hopefully make it all the way."
In their first two wins -- both at home -- the Cosmos waited until stoppage time to strike for the game-winner. This game was decided with 13 minutes to spare.
Guenzatti said the Cosmos had to "score quicker. We are giving Gio too many gray hairs."
The Cosmos have scored only seven goals in as many games, but they have made them count as Guenzatti started and finished the scoring play. Right back Hunter Freeman penetrated down the right wing and sent a bullet of a cross to Guenzatti, who headed it one bounce from 8 yards past goalkeeper Matt Van Oekel into the lower left corner.
"Beautiful ball," Guenzatti said. "I had nothing to do but put it away."
Freeman almost went from hero to a potential goat three minutes after setting up the goal as he was red-carded by referee Robert Sibiga for a two-footed tackle of midfielder Miguel Ibarra at midfield. That forced the Cosmos to play a man down for the remainder of the match.
"Look, I've seen a lot worse tackles," Freeman said. "You watch the replay, I don't even touch the guy. If I'm being completely honest with you, it wasn't the cleanest of tackles, no. But I got all of the ball and I didn't even touch them . . . I don't think that's a red card."
Freeman will miss Saturday's game at the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.
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