Danny Szetela and his Cosmos teammates won’t have fans with smoke bombs to greet them when they take the field at Mitchel. (Photo courtesy of the Cosmos)

By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

Opening night.

There’s nothing like it for any soccer team.

There’s a special kind of excitement when your favorite team and players enter your stadium for the very first time.

A rousing reception.

A smoke bomb here or there in celebration.

Except this is 2020, the year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the Cosmos take the field for their National Independent Soccer Association opener Saturday night, there won’t be any cheers for the home team.

Their game against Michigan Stars FC will be held behind closed doors at the Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale, N.Y. at 7 p.m.

“It’s going to be a lot different,” Cosmos captain Danny Szetela said. “But at the end of the day, both teams are going to be playing without fans. When we have fans, especially the 5 Points, they always give you the extra boost of energy during the game. But you know what? It’s still going to be fun because we still be able to go out there and do what we love to do and that’s to play the game of soccer. Unfortunately for the fans, they won’t be there, but they will still be watching, and we’ll still feel their energy cheering us on from home.”

Many things will be different, including the season.

Each team in the Eastern Conference will play a four-game regular season before a special playoff is held from Sept. 21-Oct. 2.

So, teams will need to get off to a quick start and peak fairly quickly.

“It’s such a short season and there’s really no room for errors,” Cosmos head coach Carlos Mendes said.

“Everybody’s in the same boat. Everybody’s going to be hungry to play. It’s going to make for an exciting season, even though it’s short. There’s going to be no easy games. We’ve kind of seen that through preseason. If you don’t execute or put together a full game, it’s not easy to find wins.”

Not surprisingly, the Cosmos’ expectations are always high – win during the regular season and then win a league title.

“I think we’ll do very well,” Szetela said. “Our expectations are to win. We know since the beginning of 2013, when the Cosmos rebooted, every team comes out to play against us like it’s a final. It’s important we match the team’s intensity. They’re going to come out physical. They’re going to come out flying. We have to make sure we do that. The guys have to be prepared.”

To accomplish that, the Cosmos need to improve on their preseason performance in the NISA Independent Cup. They played to a pair of 1-1 draws with New Amsterdam FC and Baltimore Bobcats FC, conceding the tying goal rather late in both encounters.

That is a habit no team wants to continue.

“We have to do better, continue to do things we’ve been doing well, continue those things and try improve in areas that we can,” Mendes said.

In the NPSL Members Cup last season, the Cosmos bested Michigan twice, but expect a more challenging encounter Saturday night.

In its season opener last Saturday, Michigan defeated FC Chattanooga, 2-1 at home.

“They’re a better team,” Mendes said. “They’ve made changes from what we’ve seen in their system, too. We expect a very tough game. It’s a team that works hard. If we’re going to get the three points on Saturday, we’re going to have to be at our best and be a little bit more clinical when we get opportunities. From what we’ve seen, they’ve definitely upped the level of the team.”