Cosmos captain Danny Szetela: “It’s going to be difficult, but we need everybody to be ready.” (Photo courtesy of the Cosmos)
By Michael Lewis
UNIONDALE, N.Y. — You can call it hell week or New England week, but it all comes out the same.
On Saturday night the Cosmos embark on a nine-day stretch in which they will play four games, three on the road, all against New England teams.
Now, playing in or against teams from that neck of the woods isn’t necessarily the problem, it’s the fact one game will seemingly come right after another.
“It’s going to be difficult, but we need everybody to be ready,” team captain Danny Szetela said.
It starts with a National Premier Soccer League encounter against Boston City FC at Mitchel Athletic Complex here Saturday at 7 p.m.
It continues in Hartford, Conn. with a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match against Hartford Athletic (USL League Two) at Al-Marzook Field at the University of Hartford Tuesday, May 15 at 7:30 p.m.
It concludes with two more NPSL games in New England — against the Greater Lowell Rough Diamonds at Lawrence Veterans Memorial Stadium in Lowell, Mass. Friday, May 17 at 8 p.m. before the team visits Hartford yet again for a tussle with Hartford City at the Central Connecticut State Soccer Stadium Sunday, May 19.
But no one has complained. Getting another opportunity to compete in the Open Cup and go deep in the tournament is one of the Cosmos’ goals this year.
“That’s the way it worked out,” head coach Carlos Mendes said. “We’re happy to be playing on Tuesday, advancing in the Open Cup. It’s a good thing to have, it’s a good situation to be in. And like I said in preseason we’re going to rely on guys to get minutes and get the job done and give guys opportunities. It’s too many games for any player to be a part of.”
So, it comes down to finding a balance.
For example, Mendes put the team through some light training Friday, working on set pieces.
“You have to manage the minutes of the players,” he said. “You have to think ahead to manage minutes and realize the situation you’re putting players in. Taking that into account and making sure we have the right mentality and not looking ahead to games. So, we have to worry about [Boston City FC]. I know the guys who are going to play are going to come out excited to play and want to get the job done. that’s what we’ll focus on.”
To a man, the players understand that that Mendes will have to rotate the lineup at least onc, probably twice. They know they won’t be able to start every game, except, perhaps for the goalkeeper. Mendes already has used back-up keeper Paul Blanchette in a league game, the 2-0 win at Kingston Stockade FC last Saturday.
“That’s pretty obvious that is important to have a deep roster,” right back Kevin Venegas said. “The guys that maybe haven’t play a couple of games or the last game they get cycled in and are expected to hold the same standard and level we have been all playing out. This is their first opportunity. You can’t just have a roster of 11 guys and go and expect the same 11 playing at the end of the year. You have to anticipate some heavy legs, injuries.”
Of course, there are priorities. Since the Open Cup is a one-shot deal, the Cosmos face a must-win situation in that match. In NPSL play, they will play another day to accrue points if they won’t emerge with a victory.
“Every player won’t be able to play every single game or won’t get the full 90 minutes, but we want to win this Saturday,” Szetela said. “We maybe could tie this game or lose it and we have more games. Obviously, we want to win. Coming Tuesday, we have to win to move on. It’s the Open Cup. We have to do the right things. The staff has been great with us in making sure we have everything we need to be ready for Saturday and the rest of the week.”
So, Cosmos players essentially will follow this routine:
Day One: Play.
Day Two: Recover.
Day Three: Prepare.
Day Four: Play.
And repeat and repeat and repeat.
“You play a game, you recover one day, and you start preparing for the next game and before you know the game’s here already,” Szetela said. “Obviously the first day after a game is very important to do all the little things; hydration and food intake to recover as fast as you can because you have only 2 1/2 days to really to recover. All those little things are important, feeling good.”
Striker Bledi Bardic, the goal-scoring hero of Wednesday night’s 2-1 Open Cup first-round win over Black Rock, has experienced the rotation already. He came on for Aaron Dennis in the 63rd minute. So, he is available to start against Boston City.
“Everybody will go through that,” Bardic said. “Coaches know when we need to rest, need to play. We’re professionals. We’ve got to do whatever they say. We are ready. You are either coming on in two minutes or coming out. It’s the coaches’ decision and rotation is going to happen.”
Not surprisingly, the Cosmos will focus one game at a time, following a well-known adage.
“You always look at the game coming up,” Venegas said. “That’s the focus. You never look past that.”
Added Bardic: “We go game by game. We can’t think for the third, fourth game. Obviously, our goal is to win every game that comes up. We’ll try our hardest and we’ll see what happens.”