Danny Szetela will captain Cosmos B and lead the midfield. (Andy Mead/YCJ Photo)
UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Cosmos B kicks off its National Premier Soccer League season confident it will reach the playoffs, if not more.
The only team representing the organization this year will begin its quest against Boston City FC at Malden Catholic High School in Malden, Mass. Sunday at 6 p.m.
The Cosmos, who performed in the North American Soccer League for the past five years, is not competing in 2018 because the league has gone dormant for this season.
Despite having about a month to build a squad and playing style, Cosmos B is ready for the challenge.
“We’re happy with where we’re at,” said head coach Carlos Mendes, who will make his coaching debut. “I’m very proud of the team. We still have a lot room for improvement. We have to continue to grow. It’s not going to be easy, but I think you start to see the system and the belief. The guys are getting to know each other, bringing in a group of guys who haven’t played with each other. So, I think they’re getting comfortable with each other. We’ve been a little bit more dynamic, more difficult to play against.”
The team finished the preseason with a 3-1-1 mark and on a high note, a three-game winning while outscoring its foes, 10-1, during that span.
The squad’s goals are to reach the playoffs. Despite a 6-4-2 mark, Cosmos B failed to reach the postseason in 2017.
This time around Cosmos B will compete in the 11-team North Atlantic Conference, which features such local as rivals Brooklyn Italians, Kingston Stockade and New York Athletic Club.
“You play to make the playoffs and try to win a championship,” Mendes said. “It has to be the mentality to try to get into the playoffs, give yourself an opportunity and competing for a championship at the end of the year. Also, in the Open Cup we want to try to be successful and do well in that tournament. It’s difficult because one game you’re out. You have to be ready to play. One slip like we had last year and you’re out of the tournament. So, we need to be focused.”
Mendes realized there is a different dynamic to the NPSL season when compared to the NASL, which followed a 30-match campaign. The NPSL has 10 regular-season games, so there is little room for error.
Translated: like any team, Cosmos B cannot afford a losing streak or drop points for an extended period of time.
“We realize how important every game is,” he said. “If you don’t play for two, three games and lose points, you can be in trouble. Playing a very good team, the first game of the season, Boston and then we have Open Cup, we have to come in with the right mentality. If you don’t play your game the first two weeks of the season, you could possibility be out of the Open Cup and fall behind in the league. We need to be ready to go and firing right away.”
Cosmos B will meet the Brooklyn Italians in a play-in match for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup at LIU Brooklyn Sunday, May 6 at 8 p.m.
Not surprisingly, the team’s strength is its defense. When you have veterans such as Babylon, N.Y. native Chris Wingert, who performed 14 years in Major League Soccer, and Clifton, N.J. native Jonathan Borrajo, who played the last two years with 2017 NASL champion Miami FC, it’s difficult to not to think so. Add John Neeskens, who played for the Cosmos B side that secured the 2015 NPSL title, and 20-year-old Alexis Velela, who has visions of becoming a regular, and the backline looks solid.
“We have experience in the back, so tactically we are organized,” Mendes said. “We are comfortable playing out of the back. Guys have stepped up with leadership, guys like Chris, Danny [Szetela], Borrajo. All these guys are pushing younger guys. Just to see how guys are starting to be in tune with each other and to understand and to play as a unit has been the strength in the short time that we’ve had.”
Mendes can choose from Macklin Robinson, Hector Guerrero and Kevin Tenjo in goal.
Szetela, the team captain and a member of three NASL championship teams with the Cosmos, leads a midfield that combines experience and youth. Rafa Garcia, a two-time MLS Cup champion with the LA Galaxy, also is expected to play an important role. Joey Sanchez, a former Adelphi University standout midfielder, has impressed Mendes. Bronx-born Zaire Bartley scored twice in a 5-1 win over LIU Post last Saturday is one of the promising young players who could make a difference.
Striker Wojciech Wojcik, quite effective during preseason, could carry the scoring load. Bledi Bardic has seen time with the first team and Cosmos B.
“Wojciech has been excellent, scoring goals and finishing,” Mendes said. “He’s been very, very good and hopefully, that continues throughout the season.”
Entering its third NPSL season, Boston City FC presents a challenge. The team finished second in the Atlantic White Conference in 2017, qualifying for the playoffs with a 6-3-3 mark.
“It’s not the easiest to get [scouting information], even with game film and rosters, because rosters are put in so late,” Mendes said. “We know the coach. They’ve had some Brazilian players and a team that’s been pretty clever that is skillful in the midfield, counterattacking in the past. We need to be ready for everything. We need to be ready and play our game, focus on what we want to do with our game plan. If we do that, we’ll be OK.”
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