Carlos Mendes: “We’re trying to get across to [the players] there are no easy games, whether you’re in the NPSL, Open Cup match, the Founders Cup come August.” (Photo courtesy of the Cosmos)
UNIONDALE, N.Y. — As the Cosmos put the finishing touches prior to their season opener Saturday, head coach Carlos Mendes certainly likes the team he has assembled.
Mendes feels that if his squad does the little things well, there could be some big things could be in the club’s future, whether it is success in the National Premier Soccer League, the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup or the Founders Cup later this month.
The Cosmos embark on their season when they host the New York Athletic Club in their opener at Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale, N.Y. Saturday at 7 p.m.
Given what they accomplished last year, the Cosmos are considered favorites to win the North Atlantic Conference crown and go deep in the NPSL playoffs again. They finished the regular season with a perfect 10-0-0 mark before they were eliminated by FC Motown in the Northeast Region final, the quarterfinals of the playoffs.
Eight players return from last year’s team, which has been bolstered by several players with international experience. That includes center back Albanian national team captain Ansi Agolli, who performed in the UEFA Champions League and Europa Cup; Emmanuele Sembroni, a former Italian youth international who has played many years in Switzerland and his native land; midfielder Ricardo Bocanegra, a former Mexican youth international who won a gold medal at the 2011 Pan American Games; El Salvadoran international midfielder Junior Burgos and Aaron Dennis, who has captained the U.S. Virgin Island national team.
“We feel good about the group,” Mendes said. “We know we have talent, but it’s one game at a time. We’re trying to get across to [the players] there are no easy games, whether you’re in the NPSL, Open Cup match, the Founders Cup come August.
“We need to do the little things right. We need to work for each other. Those are the most important things. If we do that, I think we’ll have a successful year. We’ll enjoy it. There’s still a lot of work to do, a lot of games. Everyone’s going to have opportunities to play. It’s vital we have the kind of mentality throughout the team that whoever’s on the field, they do what is expected and they play for each other.”
The opening month or so of the schedule is expected to be the most grueling month. In fact, if you count Saturday’s opener and games through June 2, the Cosmos could play as many as 12 matches over a 37-day period. That includes playing three games over a week several times, depending on the team’s success in the Open Cup.
“Even in the playoffs we’ll most likely have a game a week if that comes to that,” Mendes said. “So for sure, it’s going to be a grueling part of the schedule, a lot of games. We knew that going in and hopefully, we’ll keep everyone healthy and fit and we have guys who can step in whoever it may be.”
Mendes, however, didn’t want to get ahead of himself as he prepares for Saturday’s match.
“We have to focus on Saturday night in front of a crowd and perform and make sure we do the little things right and punish if we get opportunities and take advantage of it,” he said. “In preseason sometimes we missed some opportunities. We want to make sure we don’t let teams hang around in games.”
No one had to remind Mendes how vital it will be making a good first impression to the fans in the team’s new home on Saturday night.
“It’s very important to play well,” he said. “We’re going to have bring the right energy. We have to have the right mentality and put a good performance on the field for the club for the fans to enjoy. It’s a new venue. It’s important to make sure the people who come out are excited and enjoy the game and they come back. a big game. Just excited about it and after working hard in preseason to see what these guys are capable of.”
Mendes admitted he doesn’t know what to expect from NYAC, which the Cosmos defeated last year, 4-1. He surmised that the Cosmos’ opponents have gone through some changes in the offseason as well.
“It’s difficult,” he said of what NYAC will bring. “They go through changes, too. It’s not easy in the NPSL to know teams ahead of time. But for us, we know it’s going to be a difficult game. We have to play the way we know we can play and do the things well that we’re good at and try to limit their opportunities. We have to make sure we’re solid defensively as a group. If we do that, we’ll be OK. I expect a very, very difficult game, a team that’s going to come in and battle. we need to do how we’re going to play and impose our game plan on them.
“If we do the things that we want to play and we’re good at it, that’s most important.”