2015 Cosmos B named as an NPSL All-Time Top 10 Team

Apr 29, 2020

Given the New York Cosmos' amazing history, many soccer fans think of the team signing legendary players that delivered silverware.

For much of the club's existence that has been the rule, rather than the exception. When Cosmos B took its first steps in the National Premier Soccer League in 2015, it was with a different approach. Yet, it still won a championship.

Cosmos B was so successful that it was selected as one of the top 10 teams in NPSL history.

"That's the first word I'll say. To think that we put a group together within a span of two months from scratch. I had zero expectations on what it would even look like,” head coach Alecko Eskandarian said. “But it ended up one of my most memorable moments of my entire soccer career."

Cosmos Chief Operating Officer Erik Stover agreed. "The 2015 Cosmos B team was really special," he said. "It was proof of concept for developing our reserve team. Good young players like Haji Wright got meaningful minutes that prepared him for the first team. We also were able to move first team players down for extra minutes or rehab. Any way you look it, it was a huge success."

Unlike many Cosmos teams of the past, this side did not boast any household names.

"If you look up and down the roster, it was the most ragtag group of players from all walks of life, totally different backgrounds, experience, everything," Eskandarian said. "We were very much like the Bad News Bears."

Cosmos B swept through the regular season at 11-0-1 and went on a 4-0 post-season run. That culminated in a 3-2 triumph at Chattanooga FC, 3-2, before a raucous crowd of 18,227 that Aug. 8.

Putting together the roster turned into a Herculean feat. Eskie hoped that that like many leagues that ran from May through the beginning of August, Cosmos B would use college players.

"Because we would occasionally have to bring down some players from the first team, we were unable to use college players," he said. "We did not find that out until late in the process. We ended up having to find players who did not have NCAA eligibility or aspirations to play in college. We got half the team from local guys who played in men's leagues or who no longer were in school anymore or didn't even go to college."

When asked to comment on which players stood out, Eskie admitted it was a difficult task."Honestly, I can go down the list and every single one contributed," he said. "Every single player at one point or another, was asked to step in in an important role. We had a fluctuating lineup between players who had personal issues and sometimes couldn't make it to a match, to guys from the first team who at times would come down when they're dealing with injuries. At one time or another, every single guy on that roster was starting and tested in an important match."

Goal-scorers such as midfielder Ruben Bover and forward Miguel Herlein, NPSL all-stars earned the glory and headlines. Goalkeeper Kyle Zobeck, now a member of FC Dallas (MLS), made some vital saves in the final. John Neeskens anchored a stingy backline.

Hagop Chirishian came down from the first team and contributed. Travis Pittman became a team leader. Andrew O'Malley, who scored for Notre Dame in the 2013 NCAA Division I final victory over Maryland, was an Eskandarian's unsung hero as "one of the toughest, hard-nosed defenders I've ever seen at any level." Nicky Costa was a midfielder at Adelphi University, but was converted into a left back. "He was another guy who was fantastic for us," Eskie said. Midfielder Cristhian Hernández was a member of the Philadelphia Union when Eksie was an assistant coach with the club.

At the start of the season, Eskandarian, along with assistant coaches John Fitzgerald, Steve Diaz and Brian Walsh, created a team philosophy.

"We did a phenomenal job of how to make the most of and how to get the players motivated and inspired," said Eskie, who told the players: “We all had higher aspirations. We all feel like we're better than being at this team right now. However, we're all together to make the most of this situation. The best way to make the season positive is to get as much of it as you can, to improve yourself as an individual, as a person, as a soccer player and to come together as a team. We very much set our standards to be higher than just results and championships."

Cosmos B captured the North Atlantic Conference crown by an 11-point difference over second-place New York Athletic Club, while outscoring its foes, 49-7, with the league’s best goal differential.

In the playoffs, Cosmos B was awarded a forfeit victory over the New York Athletic Club in the regional semifinal, registered a 2-0 clean sheet over the Clarkstown SC Eagles in the regional final and rolled to a 5-2 win past CD Aguiluchos USA in the national semifinal to set up a confrontation with Chattanooga. Since Cosmos B secured the best record in the league, it had earned the right to host the championship game on Aug. 8, but tragedy interfered with those plans.

On July 16, four Marines and one police officer were killed in two separate shootings in Chattanooga. People bonded by attending Chattanooga FC match. The team asked Cosmos B if it could host the final to help heal a community.

Eskandarian spoke to his staff, his team and Cosmos head coach Giovanni Savarese, espousing the philosophy he set earlier.

"We told these guys, 'This season had to be something that would make them improve as people and soccer players. I wanted them to be challenged as much as possible to see what they were made of,' " he said. "Yes, even though we made our jobs a lot more difficult in terms of winning and gave up a right the players earned in finishing in first place, we collectively decided this was the perfect way to finish this season. If we're going to win to prove that we're the best, we're going to give up our right to host, go to a hostile environment, 18,000-plus people cheering against us, with a community that was emotionally invested in the home team, and try to see if we can win a match of that magnitude."

The noise at Finley Stadium was off the decibel charts, according to Eskie, who called the final "chaotic."

"I couldn't hear myself speak," he said. "I'm not kidding when I say I was yelling at the top of my lungs at a player that was 10 yards away from me, they couldn't hear me. So, it was so tough just to communicate from the sidelines. But even the players amongst themselves. You can't hear the guy next to you. There were a lot of simple plays that probably didn't come off well because no one could hear.”

The visitors drew first blood in the 44th minute when Ibrahim Diaby put in a rebound of Chirishian's free kick. Chattanooga equalized in the 69th minute behind Chris Ochieng. Only 25 seconds into the first extratime, Ibrahim Diaby fired an arcing 20-yard shot to lift Cosmos B into a 2-1 edge. Julian Stahler put home a Uwem Etuk's feed on a breakaway for some breathing room before Samuel Goni scored late for the hosts.

It was fitting the Cosmos’ goals were scored by players who hadn't performed much.

Diaby, who endured a difficult life before joining the team, commuted from the Bronx for training in Uniondale, N.Y., sometimes by taxi.

"He had every reason or excuse: Hey soccer is not working or the commitment for this team was too much, so it was very fitting that in the most important match he was the guy who able to kind of quiet the crowd and show up in the big moment, that he had not been afforded in the past," Eskandarian said.

Eskie played against Stahler in local men's leagues. "Probably not the most talented player in the world, but just loved soccer," he said. "Incredible attitude, incredible teammate, and in the most important match, threw him in there and to see him score the winning goal was phenomenal."

When the final whistle was sounded, Eskandarian felt only one thing.

"Just joy for this group of guys and for my staff," he said. "For a lot of players and coaches this was the biggest match they had ever played in. With the friendships that came of it and the adversity, uncertainty that came along during the entire season, it was pure joy. I was emotional because it was my first head coaching job. To win a championship is always great. To see the smiles on their faces was phenomenal."

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