Carlos Mendes: “We now have to bring that complete package and make sure we’re playing with confidence.” (Photo courtesy of the Cosmos)
By Michael Lewis
Despite winning once in their four regular season matches and despite giving up two late goals in a loss in their most recent encounter, the Cosmos enter the National Independent Soccer Association postseason confident.
They meet the Cal United Strikers in their Group B opener of the NISA Fall Tournament in Hamtranck, Mich. Tuesday at 5 p.m.
The Cosmos finished in third place in the Eastern Division with a very un-Cosmos like record of 1-1-2 in a season shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Head coach Carlos Mendes said his team was “very confident.”
“We realize the work that we have to do,” he said. Every game is going to be difficult. We’re going to have to have the right mentality. The last game, losing, it hurts of course, but you have to turn that into a learning experience and be a hungrier team, a more dedicated team that realizes until the last minute, nothing is given to us.”
The Cosmos lost at Chattanooga FC, 2-1, on Sept. 12.
“We have to learn from the moments where we’ve done well during the season and other moments that we haven’t done well or not closed out a game,” Mendes said. “We now have to bring that complete package and make sure we’re playing with confidence.”
Team captain Danny Szetela agreed.
“I don’t think we’ve played our best yet all year,” he said. “We know that now with the playoffs every point is important. You can play three games and be out or play three games and move onto the semifinals. We know that we can play better than we have. The guys’ confidence is very high because we know, including myself, we all can play better. As long as we execute our opportunities, we’ll be fine. The effort’s always been there, and we’ll continue to give that effort.”
With a second season and a second chance for a trophy, the Cosmos will vie for their fourth title since their reboot in 2013. They secured North American Soccer League championships in 2013, 2015 and 2016.
The team fell to the San Francisco Deltas in the 2017 NASL final. Though they led the National Premier Soccer League regular season power rankings in 2018, the Cosmos were eliminated by FC Motown in what was essentially the national quarterfinals. In 2019, the Cosmos lost to Miami FC in the championship game and finished second to Detroit City FC in the NPSL Members Cup season.
So close, yet so far away.
Not surprisingly, Mendes said it was “crucial” for the team to bring home a trophy.
“We set a goal,” he said. “We want to make sure at the end of the year we’re on top and that we’re a championship team. We realize we have a difficult task ahead. There’s a lot of games in a short period for everybody. We’re looking forward to the challenge and the playoff round-robin. We need to get off to a good start to give us the best opportunity and put us in the best position to come out of the group.”
After playing Cal United (0-0-2, 2) at Keyworth Stadium, the Cosmos will meet Eastern Division champ Chattanooga FC (3-1-0, 9) Friday at 5 p.m. before facing the LA Force (0-1-1, 1) Monday, Sept. 28 at 8 p.m. Western Division winner Oakland Roots (1-0-1, 4), Cal United (0-0-2, 2) and LA (0-1-1, 1) make up Group B.
The top two finishers in each group will qualify for the Sept. 30 semifinals. The final is set for Oct. 2.
The fall champion will host its spring counterpart for the NISA title next year.