Danny Szetela: “I think it’s a final. We have to win both games. We win both games we have left [then] we are champions. Detroit obviously is a good team, an undefeated team. We’re focused. The good thing about it is that we’re playing at home against them. Had a good game against them in Detroit.” (Photo courtesy of the Cosmos)
The Cosmos won’t play their final NPSL Members Cup match until next week, but Saturday’s confrontation with Detroit City FC certainly will feel like a final.
After all, the top two clubs in the competition will tussle at Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale, N.Y. starting at 7 p.m. with a week remaining in the season. There are no playoffs, so its winner take-all.
The league-leading Cosmos (6-0-2, 20 points) face a must-win match against the second-place side (6-0-1, 19) in the 10-game season. Anything but a victory probably will doom the Cosmos to a runner-up finish.
Detroit City FC can afford to tie in the 7 p.m. encounter, the Cosmos can’t.
“We’ve got to give it everything as if it’s the last game we’re going to play,” forward Aly Hassan said.
“I think it’s a final,” team captain Danny Szetela said. “We have to win both games. We win both games we have left [then] we are champions. Detroit obviously is a good team, an undefeated team. We’re focused. The good thing about it is that we’re playing at home against them. Had a good game against them in Detroit.”
Szetela was referring to the 1-1 draw at Detroit City FC on Sept. 21 in which the Cosmos rallied from a one-goal deficit on a Darwin Espinal goal to take home a valuable road point.
Both teams bring sizable unbeaten streaks into the contest. The Cosmos haven’t lost a regular season match in 22 games this year (19-0-3), which includes National Premier Soccer League games. Detroit City FC hasn’t lost during regulation since a 3-2 defeat to Kalamazoo FC on May 19. Since then it has recorded a 17-0-4 mark for a 21-game unbeaten streak. The team dropped its last NPSL playoff game in a shootout to Cleveland SC. It went into the books as a draw, not a loss.
The encounter also features the two best defensive sides in the league. Detroit City FC has given up only two goals in seven Members Cup matches, the Cosmos five in eight. During its undefeated streak, Detroit City FC has accrued 15 shutouts and conceded only seven goals.
That could mean Saturday’s game could be a low-scoring affair.
“You’re got to expect for them to sit back and maybe counter,” Szetela said. “Detroit’s a good team in the counter. We have to be careful also because we can’t tie, and we can’t lose. We have to play our game and when we go forward, we have to go forward with confidence.”
Detroit City FC, which has a game in hand, needs a draw to wrest the driver’s seat from the Cosmos. So, it wouldn’t be surprising if it plays more defensive.
“It’s possible,” Hassan said. “At the end of the day it’s about us and we have to take care of business. Right now. it’s in our hands and we have to keep it that way. It’s a must win for us. I’m sure we’re going to give everything we’ve got to get a result.”
Espinal, named to the Members Cup September team of the month, didn’t think the visiting side “will pack it in, but will play relaxed because they know they’re ok with a tie.
“They’re very organized. They make the field very narrow. So, we have to attack them from outside, mostly.”
The team placed three players on the Members Cup September team of the month — goalkeeper Nate Steinwascher, defender Steve Carroll and forward Yazeed Matthews.
“Their goalie obviously was the man of the match,” Szetela said of the Sept. 21 game. “He saved them from us winning the game. … We’ve got to come out and play the same way as we did and just finish our chances.”
Added Mendes: “They’re not easy to break down. They’re solid at the back. Their midfielders are clever and interchange a lot, which makes it difficult to play against.”
Mendes stressed the Cosmos must worry about themselves. “We just have to play,” he said. “There’s no panic. It’s maintaining a zero in the back and giving ourselves a good chance to get a goal or two and take it from there.”
For at least one Cosmos player, preparation has been the same as always.
Left back-midfielder Ansi Agolli, who has played in UEFA Champions League matches, Euro 2016 and has made 73 international appearances for his native Albania, hasn’t done anything out of the ordinary.
“I don’t look at it any different,” he said. “It’s normal for me. It’s a routine game. We must prepare for this game like we always do, so, there’s not so much pressure on ourselves and we enjoy the last two weeks of the season.”
If the Cosmos win and earn three points, they will be in the drivers’ seat entering their final match of the season. They visit Napa Valley 1836 FC on Saturday, Oct. 19.
For now, the Cosmos have their minds set on Detroit City FC.
“I’m just excited,” Mendes said. “You work all year, prepare all year to play in these types of games. If we win this game, we put ourselves in a championship position where everything is in our hands.”