In the 1970’s and 80’s, the New York Cosmos were the kings of the North American soccer world winning five NASL Championships in an era headlined by the likes of Pele, Giorgio Chinaglia, Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto and Shep Messing. When the Cosmos came back to life in the rebooted North American Soccer League in 2013, they would tack on three more Soccer Bowl titles for a total of eight in their history.
They are, in fact, the New York Yankees of North American soccer and the mission statement is to win, win, and win more, more, and more championships. The quest for championship number nine in franchise history begins on Wednesday night when they host the Brooklyn Italians at the Mitchel Athletic Complex on Long Island in NPSL North Atlantic Conference title match, or essentially round one of the NPSL playoffs.
After an unbeaten regular season in which the Cosmos were 13-0-1 with their only blemish being a 0-0 tie at home against Brooklyn last Wednesday night.
“We feel like we’re prepared,” said Head Coach Carlos Mendes who captained three Cosmos championship teams as a player in 2013, 2015 and 2016. “We obviously had a good regular season and put in a lot of hard work. We realize that it’s one game at a time and that Brooklyn is a very tough opponent. They’ve always been very difficult to play against and they’re a well coached team. It won’t be easy.”
Forward Bledi Bardic is the Cosmos’ leading goal scorer with ten tallies over twelve regular season matches. Late-season acquisition Isaac Acuna has made an immediate impact by contributing to the offensive attack. In the midfield, Captain Danny Szetella is looking to win his fourth championship as a Cosmos player and the backline is anchored by Matt Lewis, Garrett Halfhill and Emmanuel Sembroni who scored two goals in Saturday’s regular season finale, a 6-0 win over Kingston.
Paul Blanchette is expected to get the start in goal for the Cosmos and he’ll be paying close attention to Brooklyn’s Thomas Suchecki who leads the Italians with eight goals. The Cosmos were 1-0-1 against Brooklyn during the regular season and this has certainly turned out to be quite a rivalry. The play, at times, gets a bit chippy so this should be an interesting match just like the scoreless draw last week.
“They’re not an easy team to play,” said Mendes. “We have to be at our best to beat them. In the last game, there were moments that we did well but we weren’t consistent enough. If we want to be successful (Wednesday), we have to be more dynamic with a little bit more of an attack minded attitude and make sure that we take advantage of our opportunities.”
The Cosmos had an unbeaten regular season a year ago as well, but their dreams of winning another championship came to an end with a loss in the playoffs. As the team gets ready to participate in the brand new NPSL Founders Cup, a preview of a new professional league that begins next month, this group of players and coaches, along with the rest of the organization, would like nothing better than to tune up for the new venture by going on a run to a championship.
After all, the Cosmos are all about winning trophies.
“At the beginning of the year when we got together, we said that this club expects championships and that we’re going to hold them to a high standard,” said Mendes. “Not just (the players) but ourselves as a club. I think you have to embrace that pressure and that expectation of being a team that does win and wins.”
When you think about the history of North American soccer, or you ask any soccer fan, coach or player around the world about professional soccer in North America, the conversation generally starts and ends with the New York Cosmos. These are no longer the days of 60-70,000 people filling up Giants Stadium, but one thing remains the same all these years later.
The Cosmos win.
And then when they’re done winning, they win some more. Owner Rocco Commisso saved the franchise when he bought the team in 2016 and everyone associated with the team would love to reward him with his first championship.
The journey for the Cosmos begins on Wednesday night.