Zaire Bartley: “I want to have a big career, to be honest. My goal is to be … the best player I could ever be.” (Photo courtesy of Cosmos B)
UNIONDALE, N.Y. — After practice had broken up at the Mitchel Athletic Complex last week, Cosmos B midfielder Zaire Bartley stayed a little longer to practice penalty kicks and free kicks with some teammates.
“Just to get ready for the season, make sure I’m sharp,” he said.
And for good reason. The upcoming National Premier Soccer League season could be a springboard for the 20-year-old Bronx native.
“I want to have a big career, to be honest,” Bartley said. “My goal is to be … the best player I could ever be.”
So, it should not be surprising that Bartley has some lofty goals for himself and the team.
“My goal is to score a lot of goals and help the team out as much as possible,” he said.
Bartley, who was born in the Bronx to Jamaican parents, loves the game — “everything” about it, he said.
“If you’re upset, you go play soccer,” he said. “It will take your mind off of it. You just enjoy it.”
In some respects, Bartley has come home because he started his youth soccer career with the New York Cosmos Academy as a 12-year-old in 2012.
“My experience was great because we had a really, really good team, a lot of great players,” Bartley said. “We ended up playing against top level competition.”
At the time, the Cosmos did not have a professional team, but the New York Red Bulls did. Bartley decided to play with the Red Bulls Academy. After two seasons, Bartley joined the B.W. Gottschee Academy and scored 10 goals in 22 appearances.
“He had a great year,” former Red Bulls Academy director Bob Montgomery said.
Bartley returned to the Red Bulls Academy last year with more commitment and wound up competing with Red Bull II (United Soccer League).
Despite not getting much playing time, the 5-8, 150-lb. Bartley had few regrets. “It was a good experience for my first time playing pro,” he said, “a dream come true for any young soccer player who wants to go pro.”
Montgomery saw a different player after Bartley returned. “He’s a good kid, never got in trouble,” he said. “He’s got a great shot. He’s good in the box. … But he needed to develop the other parts of his game. Part of that is the work ethic, constantly showing and fighting off challenges when he battles, helping defensively. Sometimes kids don’t see that. They see the glory and the they see the fun things. There is a lot of work to do.
“When he was younger, he didn’t understand the importance of fitness, maybe, but he learned. He grew up and that’s what coaching youth players is about, development, to be able to show him the way. He came back. and he was much fitter. I think he started to take soccer seriously. He did well. I understand he did great when he tried out with the Cosmos.”
Great enough to sign a contract with Cosmos B.
“He’s obviously a young player with a load of talent,” Cosmos B head coach Carlos Mendes said. “He’s got great feet. He’s tricky going 1 v 1. So, he can do some things with the ball a lot of guys can’t. But being young, he still has a lot to learn tactically and getting the experience in. Overall, he has a bright future and he’ll help us in the sense of bringing something different too and being dangerous in the attacking third.”
“He’s a local guy … a great opportunity for a young local kid which we’re going to give chances to and we’re excited about. As soon as we saw him with the group and saw him around the guys, we felt like he was going to be a good fit. Also, being around guys like Chris [Wingert], Danny [Szetela] and Jonny Borrajo, all these guys with a lot of experience will help him tremendously, help him move forward and grow with his game.”
Bartley had some similar sentiments about Mendes during preseason training.
“It’s coming good,” he said. “Carlos, he has a plan, and we’re all going with it because we see it could take us very far.”
A good season with Cosmos B could open the door for Bartley internationally. He played four games for Jamaica during Under-17 World Cup qualifying in 2015. Bartley said his father was proud of him. “It was a good experience to play for my dad’s own country,” he said.
“That’s another dream come true to play with the men’s national team. Just waiting for the U-23s to start up.”
Until then, Bartley will concern himself with Cosmos B, which open its NPSL season at Boston City FC Sunday.
He certainly put an exclamation point on the team’s 5-1 victory at LIU Post Saturday with goals in the 82nd and 85th minutes.
His 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.”
So, May can’t come soon enough for Bartley.
“Can’t wait for the season to start,” he said. “The team is coming along good and we have a good group.”