Ansi Agolli (second from the right), with Emmanuele Sembroni, Danny Szetela and Pedro Galvao. (Photo courtesy of the Cosmos)
UNIONDALE, N.Y. — One the most important tactical decisions that Cosmos head coach Carlos Mendes made this National Premier Soccer League season was moving Ansi Agolli from left back to midfield.
The Albanian national team captain has loads of experience playing in Europe and in the UEFA Champions League and Agolli’s soccer IQ proved to be off the charts.
It certainly has allowed the Cosmos to reach the NPSL semifinals, having tallied the game-winning goals in both playoff matches this month.
On July 10, Agolli scored a spectacular volley in the 72nd minute to lift New York to a 1-0 win over the Brooklyn Italians in the North Atlantic final.
On Sunday, he did it again, this time rocketing home a shot to snap a 1-1 deadlock in the 70th minute en route to a 3-1 victory over FC Baltimore in the Northeast Region championship game.
“Big moments, big players step up and he did that again for us,” Mendes said.
Those goals were the first two goals of the year for Agolli — both in the postseason.
“Obviously, he is an attack-minded, even when we play him at left back, an attack minded player,” Mendes said. “He gets forward. He’s so dangerous. He’s clever. He puts himself in spots, can strike a ball clearly with the right or left foot as he’s shown the last two weeks.”
Midfielder Junior Burgos, who scored an insurance goal and helped set up the first goal, noticed Agolli’s contributions.
“He’s playing up the field a little bit higher,” he said. “He’s not playing left back. He’s playing left mid, so as a winger he needs to be able to create a cross like he does. He is able to create chances for himself because he gets in a higher position on the field. It’s great. It’s great whoever scores. We need everybody whenever they get a chance to put a goal away and give us the confidence going forward.”
Agolli’s winner against Brooklyn was worthy enough make ESPN’s SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays of the night it was so impressive. Danny Szetela penetrated deep on the right flank and crossed the ball to the far post to Agolli, who volleyed the ball off his “weak” right foot, curling it into the goal.
On Sunday, striker Isaac Acuna found room on the right side of the box and crossed the ball to Agolli, who drilled a shot from inside the penalty area.
Agolli knew his latest goal did not stand was not in the same league as his previous one, but they all counted just the same.
“The most important [thing] is that the goal did the job,” he said. “It’s not only for me, but for all the players. We have to do our job. We’re here for that.”
He later added: “I shot it with my good foot this time.”
Agolli felt the Cosmos needed to clean some things up as they prepare to host ASC San Diego at Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale, N.Y. on Saturday at 6 p.m.
“Of course, we have to improve many things,” he said. “It is not easy. These games in the playoffs are not easy. You have only one possibility. We have to play with the ball a little bit more maybe, also finish our chances. We have to improve a lot next week in the training.”