Team America worked furiously over the final 20 minutes, nearly scoring three times, but was unable to overcome two first-half goals and wound up losing to the Cosmos, 2-1, last night before 11,612 at RFK Stadium.
The Cosmos got goals from Ricky Davis and Roberto Cabanas, but appeared to sit on the lead in the second half, allowing Team America to carry play. Team America got off eight second-half shots, including a potential game-tying shot from Chico Borja that hit the crossbar with 19:09 remaining, and forced goalkeeper Hubert Birkenmeier to make eight saves.
"After their goal, they came out with such confidence," said Cosmos sweeper Franz Beckenbauer. "They had such enthusiasm. For about 20 minutes we were definitely in trouble."
The victory raises the Cosmos' record to 17-8 and assures the team of a spot in the North American Soccer League playoffs for the eighth consecutive year. The Cosmos also took over first place in the overall league point-race with 152 points, three ahead of the Vancouver Whitecaps.
For Team America, the loss was the team's 11th in its last 13 games and greatly endangered the team's chances of making the playoffs. Team America is in last place in the Southern Division with a 9-15 record and 68 points, and remains 27 points behind Tulsa in the race for the eighth and final playoff spot.
But the loss was not typical of the losses Team America has suffered recently. The team played one of its best offensive games of the year, attempting 20 shots, and at times controlled the midfield.
"I think we all feel good about this game," said Borja, who has been hampered by injuries all season. "After the game, we were all talking about the things we had done well, not the mistakes. It's a positive feeling again."
"It's still a loss, and it hurts, but it's not like the others where you feel like hanging yourself afterward," said defender Jeff Durgan, Team America captain. "There was definitely improvement."
Team America's offense, the team's glaring weakness all season long, was greatly bolstered by the addition of Mark Peterson. Acquired from the Seattle Sounders on Monday, Peterson started last night and played well. He got off three shots and assisted on Team America's goal before leaving with 10 minutes remaining after being knocked to the ground attempting a header. Peterson was not injured on the play.
"It's amazing what a difference one player makes," said Team America Coach Alkis Panagoulias, whose starting lineup emphasized speed and quickness. "Mark is even dangerous without the ball. He improved the level of the other players."
The Cosmos took a 1-0 lead at 20:53 when Davis scored on a 30-yard drive from the top of the box. After passes from Vladislav Bogicevic and Julio Cesar Romero, Davis picked up a deflected shot in the middle of the field and sent a low, hard drive on goal that beat goalkeeper Paul Hammond to the left side.
The Cosmos made it 2-0 some 22 minutes later when Cabanas, the league's leading scorer with 21 goals and 57 points, headed in a cross from Bogicevic. Leaving two defenders and Hammond flat-footed, Cabanas cut to the front of the box and lightly flicked the ball behind him.
"Two unfortunate goals," Panagoulias said. "We could never overcome them."
Team America pulled to within one on a goal by Rudy Glenn two minutes into the second half. Peterson took a pass from Perry Van Der Beck into the right corner and cut towards the middle. Peterson then slid a pass through two defenders to Glenn cutting in from the left, and Glenn redirected the ball past Birkenmeier from 10 feet.