Cosmos B: Making a Champion

New York Cosmos B finished its inaugural season unbeaten, winning the NPSL National Championship.
Published Aug 18, 2015

Pictured (left to right): Cosmos B midfielder Travis Pittman, forward Miguel Herlein, midfielder Ruben Bover, defender John Neeskens and defender Andrew O'Malley
By Aaron Cheris (@AaronHowie)

Not too long ago, New York Cosmos B was just a thought. There were no players, no schedule, no uniforms, no coaches and no dream.

Now, eights months after the announcement of its creation, the Cosmos reserve team has climbed the ladder to become champions of the National Premier Soccer League.

On August 8, New York Cosmos B completed their run to the top of the league with a 3-2 victory on the road against Chattanooga FC in front of a record crowd of 18,227 at Finley Stadium.

“I love the group we put together. I wanted it for the players, for the Cosmos, and for myself too,” Cosmos B head coach and first team assistant Alecko Eskandarian said. “I know how hard it was to get to that point. For it all to come to fruition, it was a special feeling.”

The victory was the culmination of a nearly perfect season for Cosmos B. In 12 regular season and three playoff games, Cosmos B had just one tie to go along with 14 victories. The squad that won those games comes from all over the world, and they came to New York to fight for a common goal.

For Cosmos B regular season MVP Ruben Bover, the journey to the Cosmos was a short one distance-wise. After playing for the New York Red Bulls in MLS, Bover joined the club recovering from injury. Now the 23-year-old is playing with the first team.

“The Cosmos gave me an opportunity to return with them, train with the first team and play with the second team,” Bover said. “Everything worked out and I’m happy to be here now.”

Cosmos B captain John Neeskens, 21, was playing with the Colorado Rapids of MLS in 2014 but jumped at the chance to join the Cosmos, his father's former team.

“I got the opportunity to come here, and I didn’t think twice about it,” Neeskens said.

Portuguese striker Miguel Herlein, a former youth international for his country who played with FC Goa in the Indian Super League, joined up in late April, just after Bover and Neeskens. He was the B team's leading goal scorer. Herlein, 22, and Haji Wright, one of U.S. soccer's top prospects at the Under-17 level who signed with the Cosmos in late March, made for a formidable attacking duo during the regular season.

Defender Andrew O’Malley and midfielder Travis Pittman, college soccer standouts at Notre Dame and West Virginia, respectively, were both playing elsewhere and got their shots to impress the Cosmos coaches. Both left a lasting impression.

“I got here and after the first day, I fell in love with the place and really tried to make a statement,” O’Malley said.

Right from the start, the good results came in bunches for Comsos B. During the regular season, Cosmos B scored 49 goals while allowing just seven. Both totals ranked best in the NPSL North Atlantic Conference.

“We thought we were improving as the season went on, and the results reflected that,” Neeskens said.

As the season progressed, the reserve side accumulated trophies. Cosmos B were the NPSL’s regular season champions. In the playoffs, Cosmos B earned the Northeast Regional title on their way to the National Championship game.

Chattanooga FC, runners-up a year ago, hosted the 2015 title game in front of a record crowd.

“We didn’t expect so many people. It was a surprise,” Herlein said. “It gave us extra motivation to win the final.”

“Personally, I was expecting a tough game but when we got there, the atmosphere was nothing like I expected,” Pittman said.

Cosmos B was initially tapped to be the home side. A reason behind the venue change was the potential for a large crowd, and that would create a tougher challenge for Cosmos B. Their coach was looking forward to that test.

“The last thing I wanted was the game to be easy, and I knew it wouldn't be no matter what," Eskandarian said. "What better way to raise the profile of the match than move the game to Chattanooga.”

Immediately, Cosmos B were tested. Midfielder Ibrahim Diaby got the visitors started with a goal minutes before halftime. In the second half, the home crowd got their chance to cheer when their side equalized to force extra time.

Within the first minute in extra time, Diaby struck again to silence the large crowd and put Cosmos B back in front. Later in the first extra period defender Uwem Etuk set up forward Julian Stahler with a vacant net, and he tapped in to give Cosmos B a 3-1 lead. Stahler celebrated the goal by tearing his jersey off and running down the field. Diaby was named player of the game for his performance. 

Even though Chattanooga FC cut the lead to just one goal at the end, three proved enough for Cosmos B to claim a national title.


Cosmos B presented with the NPSL National Championship trophy in Chattanooga

“The atmosphere was amazing. It was great to play a final like that in front of so many people,” Bover said. “Winning away from home almost feels better.”

“It was hard. The fans were very passionate but we were able to band together and pull it out,” Neeskens said.

After the victory, the Cosmos B players tossed their coach in the air in celebration.

“I didn’t expect that. It was crazy. I was pretty nervous that they started throwing me up and down," Eskandarian said. "It’s indescribable. To be the head coach of a team for the first time and go through the trials and tribulations, it was the best feeling I’ve had since I was playing.”

With a title under their belt, Cosmos B will now have some time to relax before beginning a new season.

“As a professional soccer player you do have a little free time on your hands,” O’Malley said. “I play a lot of guitar and I draw a lot. Just jumping from hobby to hobby.”

“I like to be with my friends, stay home and watch movies,” Herlein said. “I play FIFA on PlayStation. My team is Chelsea. I think I’m the best on the team, but some people say no.”

Music was a touchy topic in the Cosmos B locker room all season long, and everyone had their own take on it. 

"I had to be the DJ at the final because the stuff coming from the other guys was terrible, to be honest," Bover said. 

"I have a certain order that I put things on. I do listen to certain music," O'Malley said of his pregame routine. "The music in our locker room is just awful. It’s nothing I want to listen to before a game."

The captain took a different stance.

"The music we listen to in the locker room, it's pretty good," Neeskens said.

“It’s been no bed of roses, no pleasure cruise,” Freddie Mercury sang in Queen's ubiquitous anthem, “We Are The Champions." Cosmos B's head coach expressed a similar sentiment about the team's first season.

“It was a lot of work. I did not do it by myself,” Eskandarian said. “For me personally, I made a lot of sacrifices and put a lot of man hours into it. But it was worth it for the summer we had.”