Carlos Mendes: “It’s vital you pick up the points at home. It’s such a short season. One or two games that you don’t get the results, especially at home, those couple of points can cost you big.” (Photo courtesy of the Cosmos)
The Cosmos face a new and different dynamic competing in the NPSL Members Cup.
Instead of qualifying for and going through several rounds to win a title, the regular-season leader will be crowned champions.
So, every game, every point will be important.
“For us, nothing has changed,” said striker Bledi Bardic, the lone Cosmos to earn National Premier Soccer League Best XI honors. “We have the same mentality every game. For me personally, this fit is better because there’s going to be 10 games. whoever has the most points. In the playoffs, you can have an amazing season. One day you don’t perform, and you lose the game and you can’t win. So, this is the best and easier way to win a championship.”
Bardic certainly had a point. The past two NPSL seasons, the Cosmos had the best record of all the teams, only to fall short of their championship quest in the playoffs. In this year’s final, they dropped a 3-1 home decision to Miami FC on Aug. 3.
Just vying for a regular season is quite familiar to former Albanian national team captain Ansi Agolli. He played most of his career in Albanian and Azerbaijan, where the regular-season winners were considered champions, not any league or football association cups.
“This is a normal competition to compete because it’s three points with good opponents,” he said.
“Every competition has emotions, stress, pressure. Every competition has its peculiarities. This also gives you more chances.”
Every professional sports league in the United States has playoffs, failing to win a division or conference title is not the end of the world. There is a safety net for lower-placed teams to reach the postseason.
That makes it almost mandatory for the home team to accrue as many points as possible and avoid defeats. The Cosmos will have their first opportunity to earn three home points when they host the Milwaukee Torrent at Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale, N.Y. on Saturday at 7 p.m.
“It’s vital you pick up the points at home,” head coach Carlos Mendes said. “It’s such a short season. One or two games that you don’t get the results, especially at home, those couple of points can cost you big. You don’t have time to recover to make up some points. You have to get off to a good start, you have to be successful early on. So far, one game in we’re off to a good start, but there’s a lot left. We have to beat a difficult team Saturday night.”
Midfielder Junior Burgos, who converted the game-winning free kick in the Cosmos’ inaugural cup match, a 1-0 win at FC Chattanooga last Saturday, had a solution — run the table.
“The margin of error is very, very low,” he said. “We know it’s in our hands. If we win out, we become champions. In the last tournament we didn’t lose one game and we lost one game [in the playoffs] and we didn’t become champions. So, I think it’s an advantage that we win all our games coming forward and we become champions.”
The Torrent will have two familiar faces, a pair of former Cosmos in midfielder Giuseppe Barone, not to be confused with Cosmos midfielder Giuseppe Barone, the son of team vice president Joe Barone, and goalkeeper Kevin Tenjo. The former Barone played with the Cosmos last season and trained with the club earlier this year.
Both played in Milwaukee’s season opener last Saturday, a 2-0 win over Napa Valley 1839 FC.
“They have some guys playing who have been here with the Cosmos, so we know them well,” Mendes said. “They’re a good team. They have quality. Watching their first game against Napa, the biggest thing is that they’re organized tactically. They press as a team, defend as a unit and attack with numbers. A very difficult team. It will be tough to break them down. We have to make sure the tempo and the mindset is right from the start of the game if we want to have a chance to jump to a lead and be successful.”