Danny Szetela: “It’s a busy month, but one of our goals is to win the Open Cup. We have to do whatever we need to do to win on Wednesday.” (Photo courtesy of the Cosmos)
UNIONDALE, N.Y. — The Cosmos realized they were going to have a crowded schedule early this year and they could make it even busier for themselves if they achieve success in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
They begin this year’s edition at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday when they host Black Rock FC at Rocco B. Commisso Stadium in a first-round encounter in Manhattan.
Currently, the Cosmos have nine games scheduled from April 27 through June 2. That includes seven in the National Premier Soccer League, one in the Open Cup and an international friendly against St. Pauli (Germany) on May 23. Two more could be added if the Cosmos win in the Open Cup.
“We want to be playing. We want to do well in this tournament,” head coach Carlos Mendes said. “We look back to last year and we were disappointed. It has to be better.”
Last year the Cosmos were eliminated by the Brooklyn Italians in the play-in round, 3-2.
“If we don’t come with our A game and ready to play, we’ll be out of the tournament,” said Mendes, who added that he told his players “to be mentally and physically prepared, not look ahead be focused on Wednesday against Black Rock.”
It sounded like Mendes did not have to convince any of his players of that.
Team captain and midfielder Danny Szetela, a member of the Cosmos sides that upset the New York Red Bulls in the 2014 competition and New York City FC in the 2015 and 2016 tournaments, said that he wanted the team to go deep into the Open Cup in 2019.
“It’s the Open Cup,” he said. “We want to win. We want to go far. We want to have the opportunity to play against MLS teams and go from there. It’s a busy month, but one of our goals is to win the Open Cup. We have to do whatever we need to do to win on Wednesday.”
Szetela didn’t want to leave anything to chance on Wednesday. Black Rock FC is a USL League Two team that is primarily stocked with college and prep school players. That didn’t leave that side any less dangerous.
“We have to take every team seriously,” he said. “That’s the beauty of the Open Cup. Everyone gets a fair shot. Last year we didn’t play our best soccer against the Brooklyn Italians. We were definitely a better team than we showed. This year we have to come out and fight for 90 minutes and get the victory.”
Midfielder Giuseppe Barone, who scored a golazo in the Cosmos’ 2-0 win at the Kingston Stockade on Saturday night, agreed.
“We set it as a goal coming into preseason,” he said. “Every game that we play we want to win. So, with this game coming up on Wednesday is going to be a good test. Hopefully we can pull away with the win and continue to move forward and add more games to the month.”
The Cosmos are in the midst of a busy eight days. Last Saturday they blanked Kingston Stockade FC on the road and host Boston City FC at Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale, N.Y. on Saturday, May 11 at 7:30 p.m.
Mendes has some decisions to make on which players he will rotate and others who might stay in for much playing time in all three matches.
“We have confidence in the group,” he said. “Whoever we’ve put in has made a difference for us. If we need to rotate guys or make a change, we’ll do that accordingly. We have confidence in all the guys, even the ones that haven’t gotten as many minutes yet are working hard to be prepared.”
If the Cosmos win, they will advance to the second round and play at Hartford Athletic (USL Championship) at Al-Marzook Field at the University of Hartford in Hartford, Conn. Tuesday, May 14 at 7:30 p.m.
That will mean the Cosmos will wind up playing four games in nine days next week. That might not necessarily be the best circumstance for a team, but the other option would be far worse — not continuing in the Open Cup.
Many other teams would love to face that kind of challenge. But first, the Cosmos must get past Black Rock FC on Wednesday night.