A win over the Elm City Express will boost Cosmos B into the NPSL playoffs. (Photo courtesy of the Cosmos)
By Michael Lewis
UNIONDALE, N.Y. — As the National Premier Soccer League regular season starts to wind down, things are certainly looking up for Cosmos B.
Well, with a win over defending champion Elm City Express Saturday night, the side can clinch a playoff spot in the North Atlantic Conference Division.
Cosmos B (7-0-0, 21 points) will puts its undefeated record on the line against the Express (2-2-2, 8) in a 7 p.m. Saturday night encounter at Hofstra Soccer Stadium in Hempstead, N.Y.
If Cosmos B wins, only three of the other 10 teams in the division could catch New York for a postseason berth. The top four teams in the division will reach the playoffs, which start in July.
“It’s key, obviously. That’s the first step,” Cosmos B head coach Carlos Mendes said after training at the Mitchel Athletic Complex earlier this week. “If we can clinch this weekend, if we can clinch with a couple of games in hand, I think it can help the confidence, get the mentality ready where you start to get as sharp as you can for the last couple of games before the playoffs.
“In talking to the group and training every day: ‘It’s just keep improving week by week because you want to be playing your best coming into that. If you make it, you’re going to be playing against some very good teams. So, you’ve got to be ready.’ ”
Since it was eliminated from the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup via a play-in match in May, Cosmos B’s top priority has been the winning the league.
“It’s the part two of the part one that we initially set out to achieve for ourselves when we started out,” striker Wojciech Wojcik said. “The Open Cup was a priority and that was a very important thing for us. We didn’t do well there. We told ourselves the league was the only thing we have left to show for ourselves and the team, and how well we have come together and what we can accomplish together as a team.
“To have that opportunity this weekend is very big for us. I’m excited because we do have something to look forward to. We prepare for those reasons that when step on the field for this weekend, we can win and clinch our playoff spot and from there, worry about the rest. This Saturday’s game is the most important game for us.”
While Cosmos B has an unscathed record, Mendes said that he wants to see the team improve its second-half play. A familiar scenario has surfaced in the four of the past five games. The team would grab a multi-goal lead, slack off a bit and allow the opposition score one or two goals.
For example, last weekend New York enjoyed a 2-0 advantage over the Seacoast United Mariners in the second half before the hosts rallied to equalize at 2-2. Cosmos B scored twice to register a 4-2 triumph.
“The reaction when they tied the game was excellent,” Mendes said. “You don’t want to be in a situation where you give up two goals to go into a tie, but you also have to test your character and show what you’re made of. The response was great. We didn’t panic. The guys kept playing. We got a third and fourth. If you clinch the playoffs, if you’re battling in these type of games, down the line, it will help us tremendously.”
Elm City might not have enjoyed a sterling or championship season to date, but it is still in the playoff picture and Cosmos B isn’t counting that team out.
“Those guys are not going to give us an easy game,” Wojcik said. “They’re going to be organized and they’re going to be a good team. They’re going to come out and fight. We need to do the same and match their intensity.”
Mendes was expecting a battle as well.
“They have some crafty players. Some Brazilian guys, some midfielders who are very good on the ball,” he said. “They have a lot of speed up top and wide, too so they are very dangerous on the counter. They can release quickly and hurt you and then they get everyone behind the ball. It’s not going to be an easy game. We have to be at the top of our game to be ready. They are a championship team and they have quality.”