Dominick Falanga on the Brooklyn Italians: “They’re pumped. They talk about the game. They’re really looking forward to the game and so are we. It’s going to be a good test.” (Photo courtesy of the Cosmos)
NEW YORK — If recent history is any indication, then the Cosmos will have their work cut out for themselves when they visit the Brooklyn Italians in a top-of-the-table clash at the Metropolitan Oval in Queens Saturday night.
The first-place Cosmos (7-0-0, 21 points) enter the 7:30 p.m. encounter atop the National Premier Soccer League powers rankings and winners of their last 17 league matches over the past two seasons. The Italians (5-0-1), who trail the Cosmos in the North Atlantic Conference, have 16 points.
Last year these two rivals tussled three times, with the Cosmos winning twice.
The Italians won the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup play-in match, 3-2. The Cosmos prevailed during the NPSL season, winning at home on Rafa Garcia’s midfield golazo, 2-1, and then in the North Atlantic playoff final, besting Brooklyn in a shootout, 5-4, after playing to a 1-1 tie after 120 minutes.
“Every time we play Brooklyn they give us a difficult match-up,” said Cosmos head coach Carlos Mendes, who called the Italians a “well-coached team, well organized.”
“So, it’s a big challenge,” he added. “We have to have the right mentality, be prepared, and bring our best game if we want to get out of there with three points.”
“It’s always fun, exciting. Being so close to each other makes it more intense, knowing each other well. Theyre good at what they do. They’re difficult to break down. Our mentality and our game plan has to be put into place early if we want to be successful against them and hopefully, give them trouble.”
Two current Cosmos are quite familiar with the Italians, having played with them in previous years — defender Dominick Falanga and midfielder Giuseppe Barone.
Both players expect a tough battle.
“They’re going to fight the whole game,” Barone said. “They’re going to be prepared. They’re going to be tactically prepared to face what we bring to them.”
Falanga, who performed with St. Francis College, still has some friends on the Brooklyn side and he occassionally talks to them.
“What they have been doing as a club has been great,” he said. “It’s good for local soccer. We’re on opposide sides now. We used to be playing on the same team. Now it’s kind of like, no friends out here. It’s competitive. It’s always going to stay like that.
“They’re pumped. They talk about the game. They’re really looking forward to the game and so are we. It’s going to be a good test.”
The Met Oval, an historic field that has housed and showcased the beautiful game since 1925, will bring its own challenges. The pitch is smaller than the Cosmos’ home venue at Mitchel Athletic Compex in Uniondale, N.Y. A new turf field recently was installed.
“It’s going to be a test for us because the field isn’t as big as Mitchel,” Falanga said.
Because there is little room in an enclosed area, the venue traditionally cannot hold many fans, especially on the sidelines. There is room for spectators on a hill behind the east goal, which faces a stunning New York City skyline.
“It’s weird because it feels kind of closed in,” Barone said. “There’s not many stands. People will be sitting behind the goal, so, it will be a different atsmoephere.”
The Cosmos’ 17-game NPSL winning streak, which began with their first game of the 2018 season, is the longest in the league.
“It’s a credit to the guys,” Mendes said. “The guys have been excellent. We have gotten, everybody from the starting players to guys who have come off the bench have contributed this year, have made a big difference for us. Guys who hae stepped in and have big goals and at the back, guys who have stepped in and done well and making sure we keep a clean sheet. So, in a long season, a lot of games, difficult schedule like the NPSL, it’s important that you have guys contributing and playing minutes. And I think that’s been a key to our success.”
After Saturday’s match, the Cosmos will continue their road swing at Boston City FC on June 15 and then at the Rhode Island Reds FC on June 16.
They return to Mitchel to start a four-game homestand against the Greater Lowell Rough Diamonds on June 23 at 8 p.m.