Travis Pittman: “Against Elm City each sub came in and brought quality which helped us win and advance.” (Photo courtesy of the Cosmos)
By Michael Lewis
Travis Pittman doesn’t mind wearing another player’s uniform and number, as long as Cosmos B keeps on winning.
On Wednesday night, the versatile forward entered the North Atlantic Conference semifinal in the 53rd minute wearing the uniform and name of the injured Teddy Niziolek, who has been sidelined for the National Premier Soccer League season.
Pittman, who had signed with the team a little more than two weeks ago, is awaiting his jersey.
Now, that might have confused some observers who thought that Niziolek was in the game – his name was on the back of No. 22 – but Pittman (he was listed as No. 27) knew what his mission was: to help Cosmos B defeat the Elm City Express, which ended in a 4-2 victory for New York.
“No fans have realized that,” Pittman said with a laugh. “Danny [Szetela, team captain] had mentioned he was Polish, but I have never met him. Until my jersey comes I hope I can wear his name well.”
So, Pittman could be wearing Niziolek’s No. 22 again when Cosmos B takes on the Brooklyn Italians in the conference final at Commisso Stadium in Manhattan Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
“I’m not sure if I will be representing Niziolek’s jersey or if mine will arrive,” Pittman said. “It would be nice to have my name on the back, but my main priority is winning this next match and advance toward our goal of the NPSL championship.”
Pittman acquitted himself well Wednesday night, which could open the door for some more minutes after Bledi Bardic suffered a hamstring injury.
“We will definitely miss the quality he brings to our team,” said Pittman, who came in for the team-leading goal-scorer. “He has been scoring goals for us and making life tough for defenses. What’s great about our team though, is we have the depth to continue to put together a strong line up despite injuries.”
A former U.S. youth international, Pittman was one of several reserves who were praised for their performance Wednesday. That did not escape the Manassas, Va. native.
“It’s great to see that when Carlos [Mendes, head coach] makes a sub, there isn’t a drop in the level,” he said. “This is a testament to the quality of our team. Against Elm City each sub came in and brought quality which helped us win and advance.”
Pittman, a member of Cosmos B’s 2015 NPSL championship team, Pittman rejoined the squad a little mor ethan two weeks ago. He had been playing in a Central American soccer league in northern Virginia, but yearned for more competition and challenges. He got in touch with Szetela and told him he would be on Long Island and could train with the team. Szetela contacted Mendes, who gave the 5-11, 170-lb. Pittman the green light.
Since the 27-year-old Pittman was a known quantity, he was offered an opportunity to sign with the team.
“We knew he was a player that can contribute that has played at a good level,” Mendes said. “We got lucky with the timing — he had come back here to the New York area — so it fit well. A good kid, a good soccer player. He can play different positions. He’s very good. He’s good on the ball. He can give us something different. He’ll definitely get minutes and have an opportunity to make a difference and impact the game for us.”
Pittman is one of two Cosmos B players who performed for the team in 2015; left fullback John Neeskens is the other. Alecko Eskandarian was the head coach, John Fitzgerald his assistant at the time.
Beyond finishing with an undefeated season and capturing the crown, what made the 2015 season memorable was the team camaraderie.
“It was an honor to play for that team,” Pittman said. “Everybody was together. The locker room was good. The skill level, the game plan, the coaches’ philosophy. There weren’t any big egos. everyone was working for each other. Everybody enjoyed each other. So the off the field unity definitely helped the on-the-field unity, when things weren’t going well. us being able to stick together and get results.
“There was always positivity throughout the group. Even if one person was having a bad day, everybody stuck together. It was a true team. There was great quality in the team, skillset, but as well as mental.”
Facing adversity against Elm City, Cosmos B came together in similar fashion in the conference final.
“I thought we ended the match very strong,” Pittman said. “I was pleased to see how the team stuck together to get the result. We played our futbol, stayed together, and believed we would get the win.
“I believe winning in a game like that furthered the good energy throughout the group. Advancing after those types of games, I believe deepens trust between players enhancing greater team morale.”