Danny Szetela: “We can’t drop points. Every game we have go in and try to fight for three points. (Photo courtesy of the Cosmos)

When the Cosmos make their NPSL Members Cup debut at Finley against Chattanooga FC, they know they can ill afford to give away points — home or away.

That’s because at the present time there are no playoffs scheduled for the inaugural season of the six-team league.

“We can’t drop points,” captain Danny Stezela said. “Every game we have go in and try to fight for three points. There are only six teams in the league, so every point is going to count. At the end season, whoever has the most points is going to be the champion.”

The league is in direct contrast to the National Premier Soccer League, in which playoffs decided the champion. The Cosmos dropped a 3-1 decision to Miami FC in the championship game last Saturday.

“Just got to move forward and make sure we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do and learn from our mistakes from the NPSL final and figure it into every weekend from now on,” Szetela said.

The organizations have met once before. In the 2015 final that was hosted by Chattanooga FC, Cosmos B recorded a 3-2 extratime victory before a U.S. amateur soccer record 18,277 fans.

In many respects, the new league will be an extension of the NPSL playoffs given the caliber of the teams. Chattanooga and Detroit City FC went deep into the postseason before they were eliminated. The other teams are the Milwaukee Torrent, Michigan Stars and Napa Valley 1836.

“Every game is going to be like a playoff match,” midfielder Salvatore Barone said. “We’re looking forward to the game this weekend. They’re going to have a big crowd so its going to be a very fun. Hopefully, we can be up for it. Every game from here on out is going to be tough.”

Center back Emmanuele Sembroni agreed.

“This is going to be extremely challenging because there is not going to be playoffs,” he said. “So, you’ve got to make as much points as you can. Also, it’s very balanced because the teams are very good. Every game will be a final for us. We have to be ready.”

The Cosmos are expecting to play in front of larger crowds, especially on the road. They are welcoming that challenge.

“We’re going to be playing in some exciting, tough environments,” head coach Carlos Mendes said. “We expect a good crowd in Chattanooga. Those are the type of games, the type of environments that you want to be in. As a player, as a coach, you feed off of that.”

Added Szetela: “Whenever you’re playing in front of a big crowd, the adrenaline is pumping a little more. You have a little bit more nerves, but it’s nerves in a positive way. It’s going to make you focus more on your role in the games. It’s always fun. It always brings the level a bit higher from each player on the field. we’re really looking forward to it this week.”

Because the Cosmos played in a regional conference in the NPSL, they traveled to all their matches by bus or car. They will have to take planes to their five road games, their first since the 2017 season.

“Flying, your body will react a little differently even if it’s not a very long flight,” Mendes said. “Most of our guys are used to that. Most of our guys are used to that. So, I’m looking forward to it. I always loved it as a player. You get to travel around. You get some time to spend with the guys and bond and play these difficult matches and stay in a hotel. We’re looking forward to it.”

There’s nothing like team bonding when teams play on the road. With the Cosmos hosting four playoff games, and eight overall, they haven’t played a road match since a 2-0 victory at Rhode Island Red FC on June 16. That is almost two months ago.

“You spent more time together, which I think is very important,” Sembroni said. “I come from a culture that before the game, you sleep [in a hotel]. We’re used to these type of things. It will be good for us because we get to sleep, eat together, have fun together, relax before the game. Everybody has his own room. Not too many things to think about. All we think about the game, so, I think it will be very good.”