Darwin Espinal: “It just means that we can all score at any given moment and that just makes it harder for them to defend.” (Photo courtesy of the Cosmos)
With two of his hottest attacking players unavailable for Saturday night’s confrontation with Detroit City FC, Cosmos head coach Carlos Mendes will be called on to make some strategic chances for the NPSL Members Cup match.
Forwards Aaron Dennis and Shavon John-Brown are with their respective teams competing in the Concacaf Nations League. They had combined for three goals and one assist in the past two games — Dennis with two goals and John-Brown adding a goal and an assist.
Saying that, Mendes felt he has plenty of options from which to choose. Players such as Aly Hassan and Bledi Bardic have scored key goals for the team earlier this season are among the starting options.
“The timing is a bit unlucky in the sense you want everybody,” Mendes said. “We’ve had guys who have stepped in and done it well all year. So, I think we’ve relied on not just 12-13 players, but the whole group. And Saturday’s no difference for us.”
Team captain Danny Szetela has seen several teammates take advantage of their playing time in the National Premier Soccer League and Members Cup. So, he is confident that whoever starts for the first-place Cosmos (6-0-2, 20 points) at Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale, N.Y. on Saturday at 7 p.m. will make an impact.
“Throughout this whole year every guy who got the opportunity to play took advantage of their opportunity and scored goals or helped assist to score goals,” he said. “Aaron and Shavon came in. They were coming off the bench. They came in and started two games and had two great games helping us win both those games. They’re in international duty, so, it’s time for someone whose who has stepped up in the past to step up again.
“I obviously have all the confidence in the world in the guys in this team. We showed it throughout the year. Whoever is going to step onto the field and play has got to do their job and score goals, assists goals or do whatever we need to do to win the game.”
Not one Cosmos player has dominated the scoring as eight players have combined for the team’s 14 goals in the Members Cup. Isaac Acuna leads the way with three goals, followed by Darwin Espinal, Junior Burgos, Dennis and Hassan with two apiece and by Matt Lewis, John-Brown and Bardic with one each. Players such as Charlie Ledula also can come off the bench and make a difference late in a match.
“It just means that we can all score at any given moment and that just makes it harder for them to defend,” said Espinal, who was named to the Members Cup team of the month for September. “If eight of our players are scoring, then it means we’re playing as a team. That’s just beneficial for us.”
Hassan said the share the wealth philosophy says a lot about the team’s depth in the forward and attacking roles.
“Players are stepping up when needed,” he said. “It’s very important to have those numbers spread around because it gives teams more things to worry about. It’ a group of guys. It’s a testament to the competition that we have in this group. It’s great. It makes the team better; it makes you personally better.”
Added Mendes: “It’s a good sign you have a lot of different players scoring goals. It’s healthy competition within the team. … We’ve been relying on guys all year, guys like Bledi and Hassan that step in and have an opportunity. Hopefully, they’re going to impact the game.”
In Concacaf Nations League play, John-Brown came on as a substitute in first-place Grenada’s (2-0-1, 7 points) scoreless draw at French Guiana (1-0-2, 4) in a League B Group A game on Wednesday. The teams will meet again on in Grenada on Sunday.
Dennis and the third-place U.S. Virgin Islands (1-1-0, 3) will visit second-place Barbados (1-1-0, 3; on goal differential) in a League C Group A match on Saturday night with a return match on in the USVI on Tuesday.
After Saturday’s home contest, the Cosmos will conclude their Members Cup season at Napa Valley 1839 FC on Saturday, Oct. 19.