Head Coach Mendes Previews NISA Fall Season

Cosmos kickoff fall season tomorrow night against Michigan Stars
Published Aug 14, 2020

On the eve of the New York Cosmos National Independent Soccer Association fall season opener, head coach Carlos Mendes said it best.

"It’s such a short season and there's really no room for errors," he said.

The Cosmos will embark on a four-game regular season when they host Michigan Stars FC at Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale, N.Y. on Saturday at 7 p.m. The closed-door match will be streamed on MyCujoo.

Despite the unique circumstances, Mendes has been quite optimistic about the season.

"We're going to make the most of it," he said. "The guys seem to be enjoying themselves, so we just have to stay positive, work towards our goal of trying to win a championship."

The abbreviated NISA Fall Season that all five teams in the Eastern Division need strong starts. The Cosmos' Eastern Division foes include New Amsterdam FC, Detroit City FC, Chattanooga FC and tomorrow’s opponent, Michigan.

"Everybody's in the same boat," Mendes said. "Everybody's going to be hungry to play. It's going to make for an exciting season, even though it's short. There's going to be no easy games. We've kind of seen that through preseason. If you don't execute or put together a full game, it's not easy to find wins."

During the NISA Independent Cup, a preseason tournament that helped the team prepare for the regular campaign, the Cosmos played to a pair of 1-1 draws, giving up late goals in each match.

"We have to do better, continue to do things we've been doing well, continue those things and try improve in areas that we can," Mendes said.

Teams will need to peak within a short amount of time because the postseason playoffs will be a knockout round format at one venue from Sept. 21-Oct. 2.

"Everybody doesn't have a lot of time to find their rhythm," Mendes said. "Throughout a normal season, there's many more games and there's a little more room for growing and trying to peak at right time. The team that finds its rhythm and is playing at its best the quickest is going to be the team that is the most successful."

Mendes has liked what he has seen from goalkeeper Jesse Corke, who earned the starting spot. The Molloy College graduate leads a talented quartet that includes Kevin Tenjo, Haitian international Steward Ceus, and local product Gianfranco Barone.

"Jesse has been very good," Mendes said. "We have confidence in him. I feel like he has been our leader in the back and the goalkeeper who has found the most rhythm so far. I feel like the position is very competitive. We know that Kevin, Stew, and Gianfranco all push each other. We have a lot of confidence in all of our goalkeepers."

The backline is expected to be the most solid group as the Cosmos boast several regulars from last year, including Emmanuele Sembroni, Matt Lewis, and Pedro Galvao. The Cosmos additionally return star wingback Ansi Agolii, who joined following a long career in Azerbaijan and with the Albanian national team. Newcomers Konrad Plewa, Armando Guarnera, and Dominick Falanga will provide additional cover for the back four.

"Anytime you try to build consistency and bring back a core group of the guys, that's very important and it makes the transition for the next year easier," Mendes said. "We're very happy with the guys we brought back. We have experienced defenders. That's probably the strongest core of the team. They are guys that have been here and understand what we expect and are very good players. We're lucky to have a very good defensive core. We're looking for them to lead the team."

Team captain Danny Szetela and Vincenzo Candela are expected to start as central midfielders. Mendes has several options on the flanks. Mattia Cella impressed Mendes when he performed for the Brooklyn Italians last season. Sal Barone and Giuseppe Barone (no relation), Charlie Ledula, John Denis and CJ Weinstein are viable options.

Mendes said that he has "high expectations," of the midfield.

"We've got our captain [Szetela] back," he said. "We've got guys like Vinny [Candela], who's got a lot of pro experience; did very well last year. We expect a lot out of him. We still have guys returning like Sal who will understand what it takes to play at a high level and still be a part it. It’s a competitive midfield core. When you're building the spine of the team from the back, and then from your central mids, we feel we have a very good balance."

Shavon John-Brown, who also can play midfield, Darwin Espinal, who tallied some vital goals down the stretch, and Isaac Acuna, a lethal goal-scorer when he was healthy last year, started up front in last Sunday's 1-1 draw with Baltimore Bobcats FC. If they can't fill the net, Bledi Bardic and newcomer Geo Alves are waiting to make an impact.

"We know what those players bring," Mendes said. "We have added some new players. like Geo and guys the we know that can give us a little something different. We know the level and each one's strengths and weaknesses. We're happy with the group."

The Cosmos defeated the Stars twice during the 2019 NPSL Members Cup season, but Mendes discounted those wins – and noted Michigan’s performance in their 2-1 win over Chattanooga FC last weekend.

"I think they're a better team," he said. "They've made changes from what we've seen in their system, too. We expect a very tough game. It's a team that works hard. If we're going to get the three points on Saturday, we're going to have to be at our best and be a little bit more clinical when we get opportunities. From what we've seen, they've definitely upped the level of the team."

The goal is simple - a win.

"It hasn't been an easy year for anybody," Mendes said. "They've come in and worked hard and done what they've been asked. We have to make sure we get the three points and start the season the right way."

The season opener will be played behind closed doors although Cosmos fans can watch on MyCujoo.