Paul Blanchette: “The wealth of experience of our backline is unmatched. “We’ve got several guys who’s got European experience, Champions [League] experience, USL experience. If that doesn’t give you confidence, I don’t know what does.” (Photo courtesy of the Cosmos)
NEW YORK — The Cosmos are close to capturing the North Atlantic Conference crown and securing home-field advantage for the National Premier Soccer League playoffs.
If they defeat Rhode Island Red FC at the Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale on Sunday at 5 p.m., the Cosmos (11-0-0, 33 points) will be only a point away from that becoming reality.
A big reason for the Cosmos’ success in the NPSL has been its defense.
No doubt its attack gets much of the publicity, behind its 39 goals, but it must be noted the Cosmos’ defense has conceded but four goals this season.
Regardless who head coach Carlos Mendes puts out among the back four or in goal, there has been quality.
“They make my job easy,” said Paul Blanchette, one of three goalkeepers who have benefitted by the defense’s superior performances. “They make a goalie’s job easy.”
Blanchette, who has shared the goalkeeping position with Santiago Castano and Jesse Corke, felt it was the backline’s experience. For example, Albanian national team captain Ansi Agolli has played in the UEFA Champions League. You can’t get much better experience that the best club competition in the world.
“The wealth of experience of our backline is unmatched,” Blanchette said. “We’ve got several guys who’s got European experience, Champions experience, USL experience. If that doesn’t give you confidence, I don’t know what does.”
Due to several back-to-back weekend matches, Mendes has been forced to rotate his Starting XI. Emmanuele Sembroni, Matt Lewis, Garret Halfhill and Armando Guarnera have manned the center back spots, while Kevin Venegas, Pedro Galvao, Dominick Falanga, David Diosa and Agolli have shared the outside back spots.
“It’s not easy,” Mendes said. “The schedule and the amount of games and the minutes the guys have played, it’s been tough. “The most impressive thing is the guys who have stepped in. The mentality has been excellent. We’ve got guys who understand what we’re looking for and play for the team. Guys have been asked to play different roles, whether it has been in the middle of the field, outside, three in the back, four in the back. So, they have done an excellent job.”
It’s not easy to establish a solid means of communication, but Blanchette has managed.
“It’s relationship that we’ve been building day in and day out since the beginning of the season, since March 1,” he said. “It’s not as if we haven’t played together. We’re all good friends. We all get along. We all know how to play the right way and the way we want to play. It’s never an issue.”
While Blanchette and company haven’t had to take the ball out of the back of the net much this season, earning a shutout has not been his main priority.
“As long as you’re winning, a clean sheet is just a bonus,” he said. “It’s all about three points and being at the top of the table at the end of the year.”
While fans might not have been noticed it, the Cosmos backline has made great strides since preseason.
“Our spacing, our organization, our ability to play, our communication, just about everything during the months that we’ve been here,” Blanchette said. “The relationships between us have grown so much. It makes the job easier when we get on the same page, which we are now.”
Asked what impressed him about this team, Blanchette replied, “It’s not easy to win against teams when you have to play them three times, two times, regardless of the level. It’s not easy. There have been difficult places to play and we’ve found ways to get results. It’s impressive and we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing.”
Blanchette has found himself guarding the goal more often recently.
“It’s always something you need to work for really hard,” he said. “We’ve got three goalies that can start any game. So that it makes it really hard. So you never know. Nothing is given to you.”
Perhaps not, but Mendes has liked what he has seen from Blanchette.
“He’s done well,” he said. “I have confidence in him. He’s a keeper we knew who was sharp. Our keepers situation has been very good. We have confidence in all our keepers and whoever is in the net.”
After Sunday’s game, the Cosmos have two regular-season games remaining this season at Mitchel.
They welcome the Brooklyn Italians on July 3 at 8 p.m. and Kingston Stockade FC on July 6 at 7 p.m.
The playoffs most likely would begin the second weekend in July.