The Cosmos B enjoyed their best offensive output of the preseason. (FrontRowSoccer.com Photo)
By Michael Lewis
BROOKVILLE, N.Y. — About a half hour into his team’s scrimmage with LIU Post Saturday, Cosmos B head coach Carlos Mendes lamented the fact his side had not taken advantage of a few scoring opportunities.
“You’ve got to finish one of those,” he said to no one in particular.
From Mendes’ mouth to the ears and feet of forward Wojciech Wojcik, who tallied twice within a four-minute span several minutes later to turn a one-goal deficit into a 2-1 lead, sparking Cosmos B to a 5-1 victory.
With the team’s National Premier Soccer League season opener moved up a week to next weekend due to its participation in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the Cosmos are coming together, slowly, but surely. They raised their preseason record to 2-1-1 with their best output of the four encounters.
“It’s still relatively early in the process of the NPSL,” Wojcik said. “A couple of weeks up now, we have to figure each other out. It was good for us to get out, score some goals and defend well.”
So far, so good.
“We keep moving in the right direction,” head coach Carlos Mendes said. “The group is getting a better understanding on how we want to play and the freedom of being a little more dynamic in attacking.”
The Cosmos certainly were dynamic Saturday, but they had problems putting anything on target early on. Shots went wide of and over the net.
“It was a pretty frustrating first 15-20 minutes,” Wojcik said. “I was getting good looks, good service. I just couldn’t connect well with the ball. So I just kind of stuck my head down and kept grinding.”
It paid off — doubly — but not before Lukas Ostermann, a 6-4, 220-lb. forward, had given the Pioneers the lead in the 15th minute by scoring from a difficult angle on the right side.
But then Cosmos B countered with a massive player of its own in the 6-4, 210-lb. Wojcik, who took center stage.
First, he played a one-two with Bledi Bardic before getting a touch on the ball and scoring from the top of the box to the near post for a 1-1 deadlock in the 37th minute.
Four minutes later, Cosmos B played out of pressure. Wojcik and Bardic switched sides as he latched onto Johnny Borrajo’s pass and finished from the penalty spot for a 2-1 advantage.
“It’s huge,” Mendes said. “They were sitting in. We had a couple of opportunities we missed. It wasn’t easy. That goal changed everything and opened the game up. We grew from there.”
Added captain and midfielder Danny Szetela: “We were playing well the whole first half. but at the end of the day, it comes down to who can finish opportunities and Wojciech’s a great player. Whenever he gets his opportunities, he’ll finish them. He’ll always get two, three, four opportunities a game and it’s important to finish as many opportunities as you can.
“Today, two difficult goals that he scored. The field’s bouncy, so he had to take a touch to set it up. His first touch set up both goals perfectly. It’s exciting to watch him play because he’s getting more and more comfortable every week here and getting more confident.”
The 25-year-old Wojcik, who scored in the 3-0 victory over Columbia University Wednesday, has had pro experience, playing with Indy Eleven (North American Soccer League) and Oklahoma City Energy (United Soccer League).
“He’s been excellent,” Mendes said. “In the box he’s very good. He’s got very good feet for a guy his size. He can hold it up for us.”
At halftime, Mendes put in a new 11 so everyone would get some minutes.
Mateo Durango ripped a long shot home for a two-goal margin in the 74th minute before Bronx, N.Y. native Zaire Bartley put an exclamation point on the match with goals in the 82nd and 85th minutes.
Bartley’s first tally was penalty, the second a 35-yard blast that was the goal of the match.
“Not a bad finish, huh?” Mendes said.
“It’s important,” he continued. “He’s such a young player. He’s special in the attacking third. He can make things happen. So, for him to get a little confidence to finish a spectacular goal like that, hopefully, we’ll have some more from him. He will bring something different to us and we’ll see how he develops and how he can help us.”