Alexis Velela: “This opportunity is one of the biggest ones for me.” (Photo courtesy of the Cosmos)
By Michael Lewis
UNIONDALE, N.Y. — There’s no time like the present for Alexis Velela.
With Cosmos B, the 20-year-old defender has a chance to show the soccer world how good he can be, especially if he wants to perform in a higher league.
“This opportunity is one of the biggest ones for me,” Velela said after training at Mitchel Athletic Complex Thursday. “Carlos has trusted me coming here to be with the group.
“I just want to be better, the best player I can be.”
That will be up to the San Diego native if he can become a Starting XI regular with the team opening its National Premier Soccer League season at Boston City FC at 6 p.m. Sunday.
Velela has been with the Cosmos for two years, but he hasn’t played that much. It looks like the third year will be the charm.
“He understands the philosophy of how we want to play,” head coach Carlos Mendes said. “We’re trying to continue that. He’s going to have an opportunity to step up. He’s going to help us. We’re going to need him every day. I would like to see him even give a little bit a of leadership role. I know he’s a young kid. He’s 20-years-old. He’s a guy that’s been around championships. I would like to see him step up on the field, be more of a leader, be more vocal. He’s such a talented kid. He’s going to be a big piece for us this year. I’m looking forward to see what he can do.”
A former U.S. Under-17 international, Velela indicated he was ready to step it up — as a player and as a team leader.
“My season is going good,” he said. “We’re bringing in a lot of experienced guys. I could be one of them since I’ve been with the team. Carlos knows me, Danny [Szetela] knows me, so I feel it’s a good environment to be in.”
During the interview, the 5-8, 155-lb. Velela seemed to smile when answering questions, even when he wasn’t smiling.
Asked what impressed him about his young defender the most, Mendes replied, “his attitude.”
“He works hard every single day,” he added. “You tell him something and he soaks it up. He’ll work out his game. He’s a smart player. It’s a new league, a new challenge, for everybody, even for him. Coming from the North American Soccer League team to an NPSL team and it’s be different. He’ll have to adjust and that’ll be a big part of it.”
During the preseason Velela said he has been playing at outside back or center back. “I can help out in the back, trying not to concede any goals and trying even to score them,” he said.
Velela could have that opportunity as early as Sunday night.
“My goal is to get this league going and winning every game we can,” he said. “Hopefully, we do win all of them and getting the first win in the Open Cup. That would be good for us.”
Cosmos B meet the Brooklyn Italians in a play-in match of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Sunday, May 6.
The team stumbled out of the gate during the preseason, dropping a 3-1 decision before rebounding with a four-game unbeaten streak and a three-game winning streak.
“We took that first loss in our minds,” Velela said. “You know what? We can’t be losing to any team. We have a pretty good team and we’re pretty deep in the roster. We have to win every game.”
Compared to the Cosmos’ season in the NASL, this will be a sprint and not a marathon. The Cosmos will play a 10-game schedule from now until early July. So, there is little room for error for them or any team in their division.
“We’re just trying to make the best of it, trying to win all those 10 games,” Velela said. “It’s a short season, so there’s no excuses.”
Growing up in southern California, Velela fell in love with the sport early on. That shouldn’t be surprising because he had two older brothers were played the sport.
“They were both pretty good, but they didn’t have any mentors growing up,” he said. “So, they weren’t really big in wanting to go pro here and stuff like that. I was fortunate to have them. I look up to them they have been guiding me all this way until now.”
Velela, who performed with the San Diego Nomads, practiced in the backyard a lot with his brother Jonathan, who was two years older than him.
“Growing up, it was, ‘I’m better than you, No, I’m better than you,’ ” he said. “We had that relationship that helped me grow in being better than him, which helped me be better than anyone else around me.”
He’ll have an opportunity to prove it this season.
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