Dominick Falanga: “All these guys have plenty of experience, plenty of character, which I feel is very unique to this team.” (Photo courtesy of the Cosmos)
Some striker scores a hat-trick and he gets a big headline.
A defender or a team’s defense plays a stellar match, denying an opposing forward a decent chance at the net, let alone a goal, and it might get lost in the shuffle in the media.
That is the plight of a defender.
Of course, the Cosmos have another view on that. They value and appreciate the performance of their backline this season.
During the National Premier Soccer League campaign, the Cosmos allowed four in 14 regular season matches. In four playoff games, they conceded four goals, including three by Miami FC in the NPSL final.
In the NPSL Members Cup, the first-place Cosmos (4-0-2, 14 points) have surrendered three goals in six matches entering Saturday’s 7 p.m. confrontation with second-place Chattanooga FC (3-2-2, 11) at Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale, N.Y.
“The defense has been exceptional,” forward Aaron Dennis said. “Even if you look at the games we’ve lost or tied, you honestly look at the attackers and maybe we should have finished some more chances. I really don’t have anything bad to say about our defense. They have been exceptional throughout the season.”
The Cosmos’ backline in last Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Detroit City FC included Garrett Halfhill and Matt Lewis in the middle and Pedro Galvao and Ansi Agolli on the flanks, although Agolli has played more as a wing back in recent matches.
“That’s probably one of our biggest strengths, our defense,” midfielder Sal Barone said. “Even the guys we have back there, they’re leaders. It starts with them. they’re the ones who see the whole field in front of them. So, they’re dictating most of the match. We feed off of that. We feed off their momentum and we’ve given up not many goals and that’s because of them. They’re working very hard.”
Emmanuele Sembroni has been a regular at center back, but he had to sit out the Detroit game due to a yellow card. Armando Guarnera also gives the club cover in the middle. Dominick Falanga, Kevin Venegas and David Diosa, who can play any spot on the left side, also have been deployed as outside backs throughout the two seasons.
“It’s such a big connection for all of us, from the center backs to the wing backs,” Guarnera said. “We’re like a family. We always help each other. The veterans on the team, they always help me out. It’s something that has really helped me as a player this year. I am going to keep learning from them and just work my way up.”
Falanga said the defense has been “fantastic.”
“Most games we have held a clean sheet,” he said. “There’s obviously room for improvement. But at the same time, the guys, the backline, all these guys have plenty of experience, plenty of character, which I feel is very unique to this team. We have guys like Sembroni who bring a lot of energy. It’s an energy that rubs off on the rest of the team.”
Of course, it’s more than just the backline or goalkeeper. In these modern times, teams must play defense from top to back, from forward all the way to the other end of the field.
“Scoring goals is very important to be successful,” assistant coach Luis Gutierrez said. “But today it is more difficult to score goals. So, you have to work together, be a team, defend. Every player has to defend. Having that mentality is very important for us.”
Asked about which defender was the most difficult to play against in training, Dennis replied, “Depends who’s on your team,” he said with a laugh.
And he left it at that.