Cosmos celebrate winning the Northeast Region title last weekend. (Photo courtesy of the Cosmos)
UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Teams are successful for many reasons.
Talent will take you a long way.
So will a winning mentality.
The New York Cosmos have combined those two items with something else to reach the National Premier Soccer League semifinals against ASC San Diego at Mitchel Athletic Complex at 7 p.m. Saturday: Team chemistry.
Just ask some of the Cosmos players.
“I haven’t played for a club like this before. This is a first-time experience for me,” right back Kevin Venegas said. “Obviously, the brand of the Cosmos being international, well known and respected.”
But it was more than that.
“Just the locker room,” Venegas added. “You always hear the athletes come in and say, ‘The team’s a family.’ I don’t always exactly believe them a 100 percent. But it in my personal opinion, a lot of these guys, they do feel like family. It’s kind of fun to come into the locker room. There’s a lot of banter. You’ve kind of grown relationships with everybody.
“You can tell that everybody has the same mindset of championship. There is no other end-goal product that we want. And kind of camaraderie, that unity, that locker room presence in the back of our heads relays into training. We know what’s good enough to get us there. And if we’re not there, Carlos [Mendes, head coach] is reminding us, Luis [Gutierrez, assistant coach] is reminding us. We all hold ourselves to that level.”
When asked what made this Cosmos team special, defender Pedro Galvao replied, “unity.”
“We spend more time than with our families,” Galvao said. “So, that’s the way we look at the squad, like a family. So, and that’s very important. We put that on the field. We run for each other, we fight for each other and when somebody has a wrong pass or a mistake, there’s another player covering and that’s very good. Everyone is on the same page. We’re like a family, we feel like a family.”
The Cosmos have made sure the team’s training facility is a second home, outside of having beds in which to sleep. When players arrive at the training facility in the morning, breakfast is ready. After training, they have lunch there as well.
“It’s very important,” Galvao said. “Some players have like one hour and a half driving, like Bledi [Bardic, striker]. I have 35 minutes and it’s important to be here. We have breakfast together and we start working together. Everything before and after practice is also important to keep us as a unit.
“It makes a difference. Little details make the difference.”
Having those good vibes have been among the cornerstones of the team’s success since its reboot in 2013. Former Cosmos head coach Giovanni Savarese, now in the same capacity with the Portland Timbers, stressed that he wanted a good locker room, not only recruiting good players, but good people. One of his players back then was Mendes, who was team captain.
That philosophy, not surprisingly, has rubbed off on Mendes.
“I was lucky enough to play here with a great locker room and great family,” said Mendes, who skippered North American Soccer League championship sides in 2013, 2015 and 2016. “It went a long way to make the team successful, the championships. We wanted to carry that, continue that. Every season you’re going to face challenges. When the guys are on the same page, working for each other, that’s when you get through the tough moments.
“I think we’ve proven it this year. There’s still a lot of come, but it’s important. It’s not easy to find guys who can play and fit into your system and at the same time they have the mentality and respect that needs to be in the locker room. That’s important to me. As a player it was always important and as a coach, definitely vital. I stressed that when we were signing players.”