The Fort Lauderdale Strikers are back in the postseason for the fourth time in five years and hoping to pull off a surprise as they did last year, when they reached the championship game before losing to San Antonio.
They will play in the NASL Championship Semifinal at 2 p.m. Saturday against the New York Cosmos at MCU Park in Brooklyn.
The Strikers squeaked into the playoffs as the fourth and final seed. New York is the top seed. Fort Lauderdale is 0-6-2 against the Cosmos. Their last meeting, Aug. 8, ended in a 3-3 tie.
Coach Günter Kronsteiner said his team is happy to make the playoffs, “but I’m not stopping right there. … This is a team that wants to play good soccer. Everyone wants to show what they’ve got against the Cosmos.
“Everybody who is familiar with our league knows the Cosmos are the big sharks, who already dominated the league for the past few years. We are complete outsiders, but I am pretty positive that we could also surprise this team.”
Despite their domination of the series against Fort Lauderdale, the Cosmos are taking the Strikers seriously.
“We don’t care what happened in the past,” Cosmos coach Giovanni Savarese told BigAppleSoccer.com. “We know that this is a new game. We know that they are excited they made the playoffs. They are eager to make it to the final as they did last year. For us, it’s just a very important match. Our players know it’s a difficult team that we’re going to play against.”
Cosmos right back Hunter Freeman agreed: “When you get into these games in the playoffs, it doesn’t matter what these teams’ record was or how they were doing because these games are all one-off games. For sure they’re coming in here to get the win. They’ve kind of followed the same path they did last year. Getting into the playoffs at the last hour and they’ve made it all the way to the final. So they’re a dangerous team.”
Brazilian newcomer Stefano Pinho is a big reason the Strikers (11-11-8) made the final four. He won the Golden Boot Award as the league’s top scorer with 16 goals and seven assists in 28 games. He is also a finalist for the Golden Ball MVP Award.
Ottawa and Minnesota are in the other semifinal.