Starikov Shines on Biggest Stage

First-year Cosmos forward in top form heading into Championship Final
Published Nov 12, 2017

In a crowded lineup, forward, Eugene Starikov, was having trouble standing out from his teammates. Alternating between starting and coming on as a substitute, Starikov had yet to find the net in his first 14 Regular Season games for the Cosmos.

“I think it was just a matter of luck,” Starikov said of his early slump. “Sometimes forwards go through a drought where you can’t hit the net. I was hitting posts and everything, but I couldn’t score. Then it finally came.” 

All of the sudden, things turned around for the Ukrainian, and he has been one of the Cosmos best players for the last two months, scoring four goals over the final two months of the regular season to lead the Cosmos into the playoffs.

After appearing in three straight games as a substitute to begin the month of October, Starikov got a start on October 18 against Puerto Rico FC and made the most of it.

In the first half, he received a cross from Juan Guerra and finished with a superb bicycle kick, giving the Cosmos a 2-0 lead. In the second half, he assisted on Bledi Bardic’s goal for his first New York assist and was fouled in the box to set up Ayoze’s penalty kick goal that gave New York a 4-0 lead ina  game they won 4-1 to earn a crucial three points. 

That night in Florida, Starikov had family and friends in attendance, and was delighted they got to see him score the goal that was eventually named NASL Play of the Week.

“It was an amazing moment,” he said of the goal. “Most of the games they only see on TV. For them to be there and for me to score that goal, it was a nice feeling.”

The 28-year-old also scored a crucial goal on October 22 in Jacksonville as the Cosmos got a point in a 4-4 draw, setting the stage for a 5-2 win over Puerto Rico on October 28 that clinched a playoff spot for New York. The emergence was timely for Starikov, who is living up to the role he expects to play.

“Creating chances for the team, playmaking, and scoring goals,” he said when asked what his job is on the club.

Heading into The Championship semifinal against Miami FC, Starikov knew he and the Cosmos would have to be at the top of their game in order to knock out the NASL’s top Regular Season team.

With the game scoreless after 90 minutes, Starikov got the Cosmos’ best chance of the night in the first half of the extra time. Off a pass from Lucky Mkosana, Starikov found space from the edge of the box and sent a shot past Miami goalkeeper, Daniel Vega. Unfortunately for the Cosmos, the shot knocked off the far post and came out, keeping the game scoreless. 

“I thought I scored. I was upset that it hit the post,” he said. “I thought I hit it well but that’s football. Sometimes you score, sometimes you hit the post.”

Starikov would get another shot.

With strong goalkeeping on both ends, the game remained scoreless, forcing a penalty shootout to decide who would move on to The Championship Final. At that point, the forward knew if he got a turn, he would bury it.

“I’m confident in my ability to take penalties,” he said. “We train almost every day after training with penalties. You get your confidence in training like that.”

Six rounds of penalties finished even. After Jimmy Maurer made a stop on Mason Trafford, Starikov was given the ball with a chance to end it. He made no mistake, burying the shot into the corner to send the Cosmos to the final for the third straight year.

The penalty kick was an emotional one for Starikov, who said he hadn’t made a game-winning penalty as a professional. Now, he is likely to play in a championship game for the first time in his career. He recalled winning a title with Zenit Saint Petersburg in Russia in 2012, but he was injured and did not play.

“Anyone can beat anyone,” Starikov said of the playoffs. “We have one game left to play for everything. We just need to play our own game and I think we’ll be alright.”

Starikov and the Cosmos will meet the San Francisco Deltas in The Championship Final on Sunday night at 8 p.m. The Championship Final will be televised nationally on beIN SPORTS (English), beIN SPORTS en Español (Spanish), beIN SPORTS CONNECT (Digital), and