Cosmos Copa: Championship Match Preview
This year's Cosmos Copa has been the best edition of the tournament yet. Now it all comes down to the Championship Match at Macomb's Dam Park in the Bronx on Saturday July 28th, when NYC Poland takes on NYC Haiti.
Heading into their first Cosmos Copa Final, NYC Haiti are the undisputed underdogs. The second they stepped foot onto the field at Pier 40 against England for their first group stage match a fortnight ago, most thought that they had nothing to lose as they were lucky to have even been one of the pre-qualified teams for the tournament due to their dismal display in a 7-2 loss to Senegal in last year’s quarterfinals.
But 2012 turned out much different than 2011 for this Haitian team. They not only came out as surprise undefeated winners of Group D after recording 2-1 victories over England, USA, and France, they kept a clean sheet against an attack-savvy Jamaican squad in the quarterfinals and defeated a lively Bolivian team 5-1 in the semifinals, with 10 men for a majority of the second half, no less.
Even more importantly, this Cosmos Copa has marked a turning point in the Haitian community and how it has forged new relationships though soccer.
“I think there’s a gap between soccer clubs and the Haitian community. When I began to take part in the Cosmos Copa, it became the bridge to get in touch with the Haitian community. Soccer brings us together. I think it has opened doors for me as well as the Haitian community” says NYC Haiti president, Gregory Mervilus.
Nevertheless, even after proving past detractors wrong as well as captivating the neutral fan with their free-flowing soccer and unrivaled joy for the game, Haiti will head into tomorrow’s final with many expecting them to lose. A vast majority of spectators will anticipate the coronation of NYC Poland as three time champions rather than a Haitian celebration come the full time whistle tomorrow evening.
Gregory Mervilus, fully understands why NYC Poland are being celebrated throughout the New York City soccer community.
“They have some excellent players. That’s why they were champions twice. We respect them very much.”
However, the Haitians have merit to believe that they can upset the Poles.
“We can attack in many different ways. We like to push the ball wide, and cross it, but we can also play through the middle and attack the defense that way. We also have two solid strikers that can run at the defense,” explained Mervilus.
One of the aforementioned strikers, Yvenner Guerrier, is a classic, physical, hungry-for-goals front man while the other striker, Jean-Baptiste Fritzson, is equally physical but more of a creative, striker-midfield hybrid. Haiti also have an imaginative orchestrator in the center of midfield in Harold Junior Charles, a terrorizing winger with exceptional pace in Elysee Vilsaint, and a fearless backline who can rely on their physical prowess in case of any tactical lapses. Although they’ll be missing one of their center backs in Ricardo Ade due to a red card, Mervilus believes his team can cope with the small amount of adversity that comes with the suspension.
“We have a lot of talented players that can play different positions so we should be fine. I’m a bit nervous because he’s [Ade] been starting from the beginning but hopefully some one will be able to take his spot and step up.
There’s no doubt that Poland will test Haiti to their absolute limit come Saturday, but when it comes down to it, the Haitians possess the same amount of talent as the Poles do. The two-time defending champions will attempt to fluster Haiti with physicality and tactical astuteness, but if there’s one single element that has the means to end the Polish dominance at Cosmos Copa, it’s confidence; confidence to play positive soccer in the face of extreme hardship. And, at the moment, there’s no team brimming with more of it than NYC Haiti.
Mervilus encompassed the Haitian confidence best: “We are very proud that we are in the final, but we’re relaxed and not nervous at all.”
Standing in Haiti's way of lifting the Cosmos Cup is NYC Poland. The Polish have one final ridge to climb before reaching the summit of the mountain they’ve been talking about conquering since the start of the tournament—a Cosmos Copa three-peat. Champions in 2010 and 2011, the Polish have had unparalleled success in the four-year-old tournament, but that’s not to say they haven’t had their fair share of hurdles and scares over the last two months.
While they dominated group play, only allowing one goal in their three games, the Polish barely escaped a quarterfinal matchup against NYC USA, only prevailing in the 4-3 thriller thanks to a shorthanded USA bench that left them without subs and some late heroics from forwards Damian Serafin and Christopher Karcz.
In the Semifinal, the Poles played a technically sound defensive game against Senegal for almost the entirety of the 90 minutes, but after taking a 1-0 lead, their defense cracked, allowing a bad goal to the 10-man Senegalese right near the death. That one mistake nearly cost them a spot in the final but the Poles prevailed on penalty kicks. The 1-1 (6-5 pens) result was eerily similar to their 1-1 (7-6 pens) thriller over England in the Semifinal last year, and in 2011 the Poles used that Semifinal result to propel them to a 3-1 title game romp.
The Polish train has showed signs of slowing since its roaring start at the start of the tournament, and some of that is certainly a testament to the quality of the opponents they’ve had to face in the later rounds, but will they have enough steam to reach the elusive three-peat they’ve been discussing since before the tournament even began? If their defenders can stay with the lightning-fast Haitian strikers, and they can continue to stay patient and wait for their scoring opportunities, then they should prevail. NYC Poland president, Artur Kurasiewicz echoed these sentiments when he said that the Haitians are "Not as organized, so their weakness is in defense."
Kurasiewicz continued, "I expect an even game. Haiti have all the firepower but we are going in prepared and I am standing by my prediction of a three-peat.
"I think they are the most dangerous team in the competition and they are going to test our defense. The 5-1 score against Bolivia was impressive but I think their defense wasn't tested and they'll have their hands full with Chris Karcz."
The returning Polish striker Chris Karcz, who missed the 2011 tournament through injury, has been a huge factor in Poland getting through the knockout rounds. After a quiet Group Stages, the Polish president thinks their key attacker is back to his pre-injury best, "Karcz is definitely back to 100% and now he is carrying the whole team on his back. I am surprised we won it last year without him. This year Teddy (Niziolek) and him are the stars of the team."
Along with Chris Karcz, Teddy Niziolek has been having another MVP-worthy tournament. Niziolek is more of a defensive midfielder or regista, but despite his defensive responsibilities he has still been able to chip in with three goals and three assists.
Even though the Haitians have the most electric attack in the tournament, Poland is not planning on curbing Niziolek's attacking instincts to counter this or making any drastic changes for that matter. "Our tactics won't be different in the final. We are going to utilize Teddy and Zigi Puzio in the midfield. They are a dynamic duo. We're not going to do any changes."
Haiti may be brimming with confidence, but the Polish have been overflowing since before a single minute was played. Since the opening draw, Poland has been confident and looked the part of the champion.