Cosmos Working Towards Building Roster for NISA Season

The club has begun preparations for the fall season
Published Mar 4, 2020

The New York Cosmos won't officially start their preparation for the National Independent Soccer Association fall season until June, but that hasn't stopped them from getting a head start this winter.

For the past several Tuesdays and Thursdays, the Cosmos have been holding indoor sessions at The Long Island Sports Hub. The workouts have included players that have signed with the team, ones who performed with the club last year and trialists.

Two dozen players, including nine from last year's team, participated in the 90-minute session at the indoor facility on Tuesday morning.

"Right now, we're building on conditioning and connection between the old members and the new members that will join us," said center back Emmanuele Sembroni, who signed with the club last month. "It's going well. We're looking forward, very excited for the NISA season."

The players were sorted into three teams of eight, wearing yellow, light blue and orange. Slightly more than half the players were on trial.

Two players who have been regulars at past sessions -- captain Danny Szetela and forward Bledi Bardic -- did not attend due to some knocks they picked up last week.

Head coach Carlos Mendes liked the intensity of the players during a series of indoor games. "The commitment is there. Everybody is looking sharp," he said. "It's still a challenge because when you have new guys coming in, not everybody knows each other but we've been very happy with the level and just the attitude in the games.

"While both sports are soccer, indoor and outdoor are completely different.

"I honestly prefer to play indoor because you think faster in tighter spaces," forward Aaron Dennis. "So, when I'm outdoor, I'm playing on all cylinders.

"It's obviously a little bit harder to breath indoor. Definitely helps with my fitness. Just playing with some of my teammates from last year is always fun and seeing familiar faces. Good competition. Get sharp and be ready for whatever comes."

While many players ate at home afterwards, Sembroni brought his own lunch -- a salad and a protein shake -- which he ate after the cool down period.

"My mission is to help athletes and people to choose and lead a healthy lifestyle," he said. "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."

Another player who brought vital leadership to the team last year, Agolli, 37, indicated that he wants to return.

"I feel like I can give more for this team," he said. "So, when you have these good feelings and you are committed, professional and disciplined, you can train good and keep yourself in good shape. Then you can give yourself for the team. I think I can give more for this team for this team to reach its objectives this year."

Mendes said that he would love to have Agolli, the former captain of the Albanian national team, back given his vision and leadership qualities.

"We definitely want to speak to Ansi," he said. "He's a big part of the team last year. We love his leadership and the mentality that he brings day in and day out. ... It's great to have him here in training. He raises the level. He brings that professional mentality. That's key, especially for some of these young guys who are looking to become professional players."

After playing 10 months straight with his Azerbaijan club, Qarabağ and then the Cosmos, Agolli welcomed the respite, but he admitted he wasn't accustomed to a three-month break."

Normally in Europe, it's every five months, stop, two to four [weeks]," he said. "The past year was crazy. It was the first time in my life I kept on playing and playing ... forever. It was a long year."

To date, six players from last year's squad have signed with the team -- defenders Matt Lewis (on loan with Detroit City FC) and Sembroni, midfielders Sal Barone (on loan with Detroit) and Szetela, and forwards Darwin Espinal (on loan with the Oakland Roots) and Isaac Acuna (on loan with Detroit).

Mendes indicated there probably will be others who will return for 2020.

"We'll speak to some of these guys who were a very important part of the team last year," he said.

The head coach added that several trialists had impressed him and could be in running for a roster spot.

"We've had a group of guys who can contribute, done well that fit in well with the guys that have been on the team that know what it takes to be a pro," he said. "So far, for sure we're considering some guys as possibilities for the future."