Mendes and Szetela preview the NISA Fall Tournament

Published Sep 22, 2020

It's been four years since the New York Cosmos took a victory lap with a championship trophy and team captain Danny Szetela thinks it’s about time the team continues that tradition.

The Cosmos can take their first step towards that goal as they kick off the National Independent Soccer Association Fall Tournament against the Cal United Strikers at Keyworth Stadium in Hamtramck, Mich. at 5 p.m.

New York captured North American Soccer League titles in 2013, 2015 and 2016. The team came close to winning more titles in recent years but fell just short.

"I think we're very hungry, especially because the last two years we were in contention," said Szetela, noting that the Cosmos lost in the 2019 National Premier Soccer League final and finished second to Detroit City FC in the NPSL Members Cup later that year.

The Fall Tournament will give the Cosmos (1-2-1, 5 points), who finished third in the Eastern Division in a shortened regular season, a new lease on life.

"This year is big," Szetela said. "We played well. It came down to finishing opportunities that we’ve been creating, and we haven't been doing that. If it takes those little bad moments during the year that were frustrating and not winning games to make sure that we're prepared for this week for the playoffs, then so be it."

Cosmos head coach Carlos Mendes captained those three championship sides, and he wants his players to embrace the idea of that title-winning feeling.

"We want to make sure at the end of the year we're on top and a championship team," he said. "We realize we have a difficult task ahead. There's a lot of games in a short period for everybody. We're looking forward to the challenge. We need to get off to a good start to give us the best opportunity and put us in the best position to come out of the group."

After playing Cal United in Group B, the Cosmos will meet Eastern Division champ Chattanooga FC on Friday, Sept. 25 at 5 p.m. before facing the LA Force on Monday, Sept. 28 at 8 p.m. Group A is comprised of Western Division winner Oakland Roots, Detroit City FC, New Amsterdam FC, and Michigan Stars.

Despite their third-place finish in the Eastern Conference, the Cosmos still enter the tournament confident.

"I don't think we've played our best yet all year," Szetela said. "We know that now with the playoffs every point is important. You can play three games and be out, or play three and move on to the semifinals. We know that we can play better than we have. The guys' confidence is very high because we know, including myself, we all can play better. As long as we execute our opportunities, we'll be fine. The effort's always been there, and we'll continue to give that effort."

Cal United competed in the Western Division, so the Cosmos haven't played their foes. Mendes has been watching the Strikers regular season games back of late, and has respect for the sides style of play.

"They're a possession-based team," the coach said. "They're comfortable on the ball, have quality. They definitely can break down a team. If you're not clicking and defending as a unit, they can give you trouble. So, we're going to have be like every other game, be at our best and make sure each player understands their role.”

With three important games within a seven-day span, Mendes might have to rotate players.

"The club that has the deepest team and have everyone contributing will be successful," he said. "We'll have to go game by game and see what each game brings and how everybody feels physically, just like all the other clubs in the tournament. We'll assess that on a daily basis."

Unlike the regular season, where teams played at their home venues, the NISA Fall Tournament will be held within a bubble. Players from all eight teams will be sequestered in their hotels and only be allowed to go to training and games at Keyworth Stadium.

The Cosmos face at least a nine-day stay. If they run the table and reach the final, they will be together for two weeks.

Szetela, who has competed in group settings at the Under-17 and U-20 World Cups and the 2008 Olympics, is familiar with life in a bubble.

Asked if he had any advice for his teammates, Szetela replied, "It's important that you try to interact with all your teammates. It can be very easy for you to get into your hotel room and just sit there. The hotel's big enough. You're allowed to go to your teammates' rooms. So, it's important to interact with your teammates, get some fun activities, whether its playing cards or some other games to make sure you make time pass by."

All of the NISA Fall Tournament games can found on beIN SPORTS XTRA - available in the U.S. and Canada on The Roku Channel, Samsung TV Plus (1163), and XUMO TV and app (746), and additionally in the U.S. on Pluto TV, Redbox, and Tivo.