Danny Szetela: “Thank God it’s a season game, so we didn’t have to go to overtime or penalties. In the playoffs, we have to finish opportunities because if we lose, we’re out.” (Photo courtesy of the Cosmos)
UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Perhaps the scoreless tie with the Brooklyn Italians did have a silver lining for the Cosmos.
As they enter their regular-season finale against Kingston Stockade FC at Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale, N.Y. at 7 p.m. Saturday night, they were reminded that they need to improve their game in they want to secure home-field advantage in the National Premier Soccer League playoffs.
The Cosmos (12-0-1, 37 points) are No. 1 in the league power rankings at 2.8462 points a game over Miami FC (8-1-0, 24), which is second at 2.6667. So, a win and three points is needed against Kingston.
“We have to be a little bit sharper,” Cosmos head coach Carlos Mendes said. “We have to come into the game with a better start and make sure we take the game for them. They’re a very good team. They gave us trouble. It wasn’t a very easy game when we played in Kingston. We don’t expect anything different. We have to be prepared.”
New York recorded a 2-0 away win against third-place Kingston (7-2-4, 25) on May 4 behind goals by Giuseppe Barone and Aaron Dennis.
“They’re well organized,” Mendes said. “They have a game plan. They’re a physical team. They have guys up top who work hard and bring players into the game. They have some quality. In the midfield they can be tricky, so we have to be prepared.”
In Wednesday’s scoreless draw against Brooklyn, the Cosmos were shut out for the first time in the two seasons they have competed in the NPSL. They still have a 23-game regular-season unbeaten streak (22-0-1) since the start of 2018.
Captain and midfielder Danny Szetela, who came of the bench to play the final 32 minutes vs. the Italians, felt the Cosmos missed several scoring opportunities after than Brooklyn denying them.
“I think we did it to ourselves, not they did it to us,” he said. “We didn’t finish the opportunities. Thank God it’s a season game, so we didn’t have to go to overtime or penalties. In the playoffs, we have to finish opportunities because if we lose, we’re out.”
Several first-team players did not start, including influential midfielders Ricardo Bocanegra and Junior Burgos, who came on in the second half, and defenders Ansi Agolli and Kevin Venegas, midfielder Darwin Espinal and forwards Aly Hassan and Charlie Ledula, who did not dress for the match.
Former LIU Brooklyn forward Naeem Charles, the team’s most recent signing, made his debut and played the first half.
On the flip side, the Cosmos continued their dominating defensive performance, recording their ninth shutout of the season and four consecutive clean sheet, behind goalkeeper Paul Blanchette. They have allowed only four goals in 13 matches.
“Defensively we’ve been great, offensively we’ve been great all year,” Szetela said. “Everything is going good. There are a few little things here and there tactically we need to work on to prepare for Wednesday. Obviously, we want to win Saturday. Hopefully we win that game, get home field advantage and get ready for Brooklyn.”
The Cosmos are expected to host Brooklyn in the North Atlantic Conference final at Mitchel on Wednesday night.
Asked what he learned from the Brooklyn match that he could bring forward to the postseason, Mendes replied, “To know that we tied in a difficult match and to expect that in the playoffs. Expect to battle. We have confidence, but if we don’t bring our best game and show up and punish teams and play the right way, we can be out of the playoffs.”