After clinching a North American Soccer League playoff berth for the fourth consecutive year, the Cosmos didn’t celebrate at Shuart Stadium after Sunday’s 2-0 win over the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.
The defending champions know that the victory in front of 2,707 fans was only the first step toward what they really desire — another opportunity to parade around with the Soccer Bowl trophy in November.
“We have four more [regular-season] games,” said midfielder Ruben Bover, who scored the first goal. “We have to concentrate on those games. Then at the end of the year, win everything and then celebrate.”
Before they can accomplish that, they need to win the fall and combined titles, which would ensure home-field advantage in the playoffs. The Cosmos (17-7-4, 55 points; 11-3-4, 37), who extended their home unbeaten streak to a league-record 18 games, increased their leads to eight and seven points over FC Edmonton (13-6-8, 47; 8-3-6, 30) in the combined and fall standings, respectively.
Given the Cosmos’ superior home record — 13-0-2 against 4-7-2 on the road — playing at home is vital.
“It’s massive for us,” Bover said.
Sunday’s result wasn’t pretty except for the scoreboard. The Cosmos experienced major problems penetrating the Fort Lauderdale back line before finding the range in the second half. Bover converted Juan Arango’s left-wing cross in the 57th minute — the first time he scored in consecutive games — and Andres Flores slotted home Lucky Mkosana’s feed from the left side in the 86th minute.
“We know how to grind out victories and whatever the games take, especially recently the last run of games. We have done very well, solving the problems on the field,” said goalkeeper Jimmy Mauer, who recorded his 12th shutout.
Still, the Cosmos believe the league hasn’t seen the best of them yet.
“Even though we have been growing, I still think we haven’t reached our roof,” left back Ayoze Garcia Perez said.
Perez knows that championship feeling, having played on the 2013 and 2015 Soccer Bowl winners.
“I am very ambitious,” he said. “Achieving two titles in three years is one part of the equation. But another part is to want another championship. That’s something that I want, but also my teammates want. That’s part in a way what the Cosmos are about.”