Cosmos head coach Carlos Mendes on Emmanuele Sembroni (above): “Sembro realizes that he has to deal with the consequences now.” (Photo courtesy of the Cosmos)
By Michael Lewis
Like many center backs Emmanuele Sembroni needs to be physical and sometimes rough to opposing attackers.
It’s part of the game.
So, it should not be surprising that the Italian center back has acquired plenty of cards – yellow and red – during his 12-year professional career.
His most recent card, however, has garnered much publicity on social media. While battling New Amsterdam FC midfielder Daniel Vicente for the ball in Cosmos territory in a National Independent Soccer Association match Friday night, Sembroni pushed his foe to the ground. He was called for a foul and NAFC was awarded a free kick.
As he walked away from Vicente, Sembroni stomped on the midfielder’s head and promptly was awarded a red card the by the referee in the 57th minute. Playing a man down for the final 33 minutes of regulation and about seven more in stoppage time, the Cosmos scored a goal and walked out of the Hudson Sports Complex in Warwick, N.Y. with a 3-1 triumph.
The Cosmos management immediately condemned Sembroni’s actions, sending apologies to their Eastern Division rivals.
“The stomping incident by Emmanuele Sembroni in tonight’s match is not consistent with the values of this club,” Cosmos Chief Operating Officer Erik Stover said on Twitter. “We would like to apologize to New Amsterdam and Danny Vicente and wish Danny a speedy recovery.
“NISA has a process for managing on the field incidents, and we have been notified a review will be conducted. The Cosmos will not appeal the decision made by the NISA disciplinary committee.”
On Saturday, Sembroni declined a request for an interview, saying he was “taking a few days off to reset and restart.”
The league said that its disciplinary committee will review the incident Monday.
Cosmos head coach Carlos Mendes, who has directed Sembroni for the past two years, said what his 6-3 defender did was “out of character for Sembro, but he’ll have to deal with the consequences. That’s something we’ll accept and deal with moving forward. That’s all I’m going to say about the situation.”
Sembroni is a personable fellow, who gets along with his teammates, whether it is him telling a joke or trading playful barbs as he has solidified himself as one of the top defenders in the National Premier Soccer League last year.
“He’s been a great on the field,” Mendes said. “He’s been a big part of the team. A good locker room guy. It’s unfortunate and it’s a difficult moment. Sembro realizes that he has to deal with the consequences now. … It’s definitely tough.”
Sembroni is coming off a memorable 2019 campaign, having been named Cosmos player of the year by the 5 Points supporters group while helping the team capture the NPSL regular season title. He formed a dynamo duo with Matt Lewis in the middle of the defense while earning NPSL Members Cup Best XI honors.
“I didn’t expect it,” Sembroni said of the 5 Points award. “I was kind of like surprised of how nice that was. It made me really proud of the work that we did. When I say we, without the support of my teammates on the club, my family and all the people around me, I wouldn’t have been able to succeed like I did. I’m very grateful for that. It is good motivation for next season, to do even more than what I did than the last one.”
Before the season, Sembroni was among 20 Cosmos greats selected by the supporters’ group Brigada 71. His likeness was used on Subbuteo-themed pieces.
“Pele, Raul, Beckenbauer, all of these great champions,” he earlier this year. “This really made me proud. It will something that will be with me forever.
“I want to say thank you to all my teammates, staff, family, fans to be nominated. This is a great honor. I’m blessed for writing a page in the history of the club. I am more motivated to come back and play and do better than what I did last season. I think there is no limits in life. So, my goal is to come back and be a leader for my teammates, to be an example, and also for the people for this glorious club, the Cosmos.”
How important was Sembroni to the club’s success? He became the second player to sign for this season, following in the footsteps of team captain Danny Szetela.
Even before he agreed to a new contract, he didn’t leave anything to chance. During the winter months, Sembroni looked ahead to the 2020 season. He worked out, taking up boxing and focusing on proper nutrition, teaching the latter at the Robert Louis Stevenson School in Manhattan.
Sembroni has taken his craft seriously, keeping his body in top shape with a daily exercise regime, that included following specific workouts during the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown – and eating correctly as well.
After one indoor practice at the Sports Hub in Syosset, N.Y. in March, Sembroni brought his own lunch to eat – a salad and a protein shake – immediately after the session ended while many players went home to eat.
“My mission is to help athletes and people to choose and lead a healthy lifestyle,” he said during a phone interview in May. “That’s what I do, and I try to live by example. In order to teach others, if you don’t do the job, you don’t lead by example. You’re not reliable. I have been doing this for 12 years now. I feel great. … Being a professional athlete, nutrition has to go with the fitness and regeneration because you are a player for a limited time. You’ve got to do the right thing.”
When the pandemic forced the Cosmos to shut down training during the spring, Sembroni and his wife Marguerite Terruso ventured to Hollywood, Fla. to live while he trained outside daily in better weather. He even devised a special online training program for players during the shutdown.
“This is very important in this moment to understand,” he said. “We are facing something that we have never faced before. Staying positive and [keeping] an attachment to reality and what is going on, helps you. It helps you to talk with your family by spreading positive energy because everything is so negative from the news to people who are dying unfortunately. The economy is collapsing. I think it helps, positive message and positive leadership. If I behave in the opposite way, what’s the point?”
Barring a surprising decision from NISA, Sembroni is expected to miss next Saturday’s home game against Detroit City FC. One of Mendes’ priorities this week will find a suitable replacement for him on the backline, at least for one match and possibly more. Mendes did not mention any candidates, although he noted the team had plenty of backline depth.
“We feel like we have a very deep team, especially on the backline,” he said. “We have a lot of players competing. That’s a very good thing so we’ll wait for the decision from the league on what will happen. From there, just to prepare and think about what will be the best group and the best way to go into playing a very good Detroit team.”