Ansi Agolli: “I was kind of emotional before the game because it was a new team.” (Photo courtesy of the Cosmos)
UNIONDALE, N.Y. – Even after almost two decades of playing the beautiful game, even a grizzled veteran such as Ansi Agolli can get emotional.
The 36-year-old left back did just that prior to the Cosmos’ National Premier Soccer League season opener Saturday night.
Then, the Albanian national team captain went out and put in a solid workmanlike performance to help the squad post its first win of the season, a 2-0 triumph over the New York Athletic Club at Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale, N.Y. Saturday, April 27.
“It was a good experience, my first game,” Agolli said. “I was kind of emotional before the game because it was a new team. As I said before, [for the] Cosmos it is not only to wear the jersey, it is also a responsibility for me, for all the team. I was emotional before the game and then everything went the right way. I am very happy for a good result and also played good football for the first game.”
In fact, if you didn’t know any better, a spectator would have thought Agolli was playing midfield and not defense he overlapped so much, sending several crosses into the penalty area to teammates.
It wasn’t as if Agolli forgot about tracking back and making sure his man didn’t get open in the Cosmos’ box. It was as though he was playing two positions.
“In today’s football, you must,” he said.
“Modern football, the wingers especially the back wingers must help the attack and they have to go at the right time to attack.
“It depends on the coach. Our coach likes the wingers to go a little higher to attack.”
That would be Cosmos head coach Carlos Mendes, who stresses his defenders, especially the outside backs, to become part of the attack when appropriate.
“It adapts to my style,” Agolli said. “I played like this before. When I have the possibility of helping the team in attack, I go when I have free space in the right time.”
Agolli got no complaints from Mendes.
“He brought us a lot attacking and getting forward,” he said. “He’s an exciting player. Still getting to know the group, still getting to know the system and how we play. It’s a big change for him. I think he’s only going to keep improving. He brings us a lot with experience and going forward, how clever and creative he is. He’s a big piece.”
Agolli liked what he saw from the Cosmos but added that the team was far from the finished product that it wants to become to reach the NPSL playoffs in July and when the Founders Cup kicks off in August.
With only eight players back from the 2018 side, Agolli said the team is still learning about itself.
“It is not easy,” he said. “This time we did a good job. We trained well. It’s not easy to take the maximum from the first game because it is a new team. I understand this. We have to work more and more because we have a lot to improve. And, it’s a long season.”
Now that he has been in the United States for a month, Agolli has settled in with his family and gotten comfortable and has begun reaching out to the local Albanian community in New York City.
“I have started a connection and they are very interesting,” he said. “They also were at the first game and some family was at the stadium. Hopefully, in the next game we will get more Albanian supporters to come to support the team.”
An impressive crowd of 3,750 came out on a chilly Saturday night to support its team. “Very nice,” Agolli said.
“I knew before the Cosmos had its own loyal supporters,” he added. “Not many teams have supporters like this. The supporters are incredible. They are very loyal to the team. I want to thank them for going to the game to watch us and support the Cosmos.”
Cosmos fans will have an opportunity to watch their team twice next week.
First, the Cosmos meet Kingston Stockade FC in their first away match of the season in upstate New York on Saturday at 6 p.m.
Their next home match will be against Black Rock FC in the first round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup at Rocco B. Commisso Stadium at Columbia University in New York City at 7:30 p.m. May 8.
They return to Mitchel to welcome Boston City FC for a 7 p.m. kickoff Saturday, May 11.