Santiago Castano: “I think it’s the season. Whatever happens the next three games, this is going to decide what happens with us to win the cup or we’re just second place again.” (Photo courtesy of the Cosmos)

The Cosmos are not taking anything for granted.

They face a foe on Saturday night that has been eliminated from the NPSL Members Cup race in the Milwaukee Torrent in a game at Hart Park in Milwaukee at 7 p.m.

Yet, the first-place Cosmos (5-0-2, 17 points) know they have to be on their toes not to suffer a letdown in their pursuit of the title while looking ahead to second-place Detroit City FC (4-0-1, 13) with only three games remaining in the season. Since there are no playoffs in the six-team league, it is winner take all.

“I think it’s the season,” goalkeeper Santiago Castano said. “Whatever happens the next three games, this is going to decide what happens with us to win the cup or we’re just second place again, third place. We definitely have to go out there and make it happen.”

Striker Bledi Bardic said the Cosmos must ignore the league table. Milwaukee (1-3-2, 5) is in fifth place.

“Saturday’s game won’t be easy,” he said. “You cannot look at the standings. They dangerous team. They work hard. They’re physical.”

The Cosmos were eliminated in the second round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and were defeated by Miami FC in the National Premier Soccer League final on Aug. 3, 3-1.

Anything but a title this time would be unacceptable.

“The only the possible chance for us in our heads is the championship and that’s what we’re working for day in and day out,” Castano said. “There’s no second or third place for us in our heads.

“We have to come out there and be humble and know we have work. They’re not going to come out and make it easy for us, for sure. They’re also fighting for something, fighting for contracts or fighting for themselves. For sure they’re going to come out and work and make difficult game out of it.”

Cosmos head coach Carlos Mendes agreed and elaborated.

“We expect them to give everything they have,” he said. “They have nothing to lose. The last game was a tight game. It was very, very competitive. They fought to the last minute. We felt we were in control of the game. Then the last five-10 minutes they fought hard to come life back. So, we don’t expect anything different.”

In their only other meeting with Milwaukee, the Cosmos dropped two valuable home points by surrendering two late goals in a 2-2 draw in their second game of the Members Cup season on Aug. 17. That result has been a reminder to the team not to let up in the waning minutes again.

“That 2-2 tie made us think twice that we have to fight to the 90th minute,” Castano said. “We can’t just think two-nil is a final result at the 80th minute. We have to go all the way, to the 95th, whatever minutes are left in the game. We’re going to fight 95, 100 minutes, if we have to.”

With Isaac Acuna returning from his one-game suspension, Mendes will have to figure out the best forwards and attacking formation to use. In last Saturday’s 3-1 home win over Chattanooga FC, forwards Aaron Dennis (two goals, John-Brown (one assist) and Darwin Espinal (two through balls that set up both Dennis goals) played well together.

“It’s a good challenge, a good problem to have,” Mendes said. “A lot of guys doing well, competing, scoring goals. We have to think about how we want to play, formation, what Milwaukee presents, what they’re good at, where we think their weakness is. We’ll build the lineup and how we want to play around that.

“We feel whomever we play they have come in stepped in and done well all year. even guys like [Aly] Hassan, who has scored big goals for us. That’s what you want as a team.”

Besides the Torrent, last-place Napa Valley 1839 FC (1-7-0, 3) also has been eliminated from the race. The Cosmos and Detroit City FC are the leading contenders. Third-place Chattanooga FC (3-3-2, 11) will need a series of results going in its favor to capture the crown and the fourth-place Michigan Stars FC (2-3-1, 7), still in the running mathematically, is considered an even bigger longshot.

The Cosmos return home to Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale, N.Y. to face Detroit City FC in their final home match of the season on Saturday, Oct. 12 at 7 p.m.

Their season finale is set at Napa Valley 1839 FC on Saturday, Oct. 19