Acknowledging that the 2016 preseason has been a quiet one so far for the club, Cosmos Chief Operating Officer Erik Stover and Head Coach and Sporting Director Giovanni Savarese sat down with the media Tuesday morning to discuss several items related to the upcoming season, including the look of the roster for 2016.
Walter Restrepo was confirmed to be leaving the club for an MLS side at the meeting and that afternoon, the Philadelphia Union issued a press release indicating the dynamic midfielder would join them for the 2016 season.
“We were prepared from the beginning. Restrepo wanted to be with us this year ,” said Savarese. “Mentally, he always had this desire to of trying to either go to Europe or make it on an MLS club and we had the talk with him at the beginning of the year.”
The split is clearly amicable.
“We always knew he wanted to be somewhere else, he wanted an adventure,” explained the coach. “So we made sure that the adventure was the best one for him possible.”
Hunter Gorskie will also depart the club after making 46 appearances across the last three seasons. Now a free agent, he plans to go to Europe and try his luck at a second-division club in Poland. Reports now indicate it club is the one he trained with during the 2015 preseason, Miedź Legnica.
“He [Hunter Gorskie] felt now that he wants to explore what his passport can give him in Europe, but is not closing the door with us,” said Savarese.
Hagop Chirishian will also be leaving. The midfielder departs after three seasons with the club, logging three goals in 26 appearances. He struggled to find time this season, although he looked solid when he did find time on the field.
“With Hagop, we have decided not to continue, so right now we are helping him in the process of understanding what the next step is for him.”
Until Tuesday afternoon, the Cosmos were one of only two active teams in the NASL without a single new player for 2016.
This changed with the signing of Michael Lahoud, a central midfielder on loan from the Philadelphia Union for the season. Lahoud spent the last four season with the Union and also played a World Cup qualifier for Sierra Leone.
However, before the arrival of Lahoud, many questions were raised about the absence of additions to the Cosmos line-up. With the departure of key figures like Marcos Senna, Raul, and the unlikelihood that Restrepo or Leo Fernandes would return, many questioned the lack of announcements while clubs like Tampa Bay and Minnesota were busy acquiring new pieces to create impressive rosters. But, there is a method to the madness.
“We find ourselves now with about 15 to 16 players that were already signed with us during the year,” explained the coach. “This gave us the possibility to be calmer, to look at players in a way that we want to make sure we bring quality, that we don’t rush into signing the first few guys that come along the table. We have had many players that have come through the table to sign, but we are very particular for this year to fill these positions in the best possible way for us.”
But the Cosmos have been busy and have been making moves.
Cellerino Talks Continue: Gaston Cellerino continues negotiations with the club and it’s uncertain whether the Soccer Bowl hero will return. “We are still discussing, still talking. Reality right now we’re 50/50 potentially on him being here or not being here.”
MLS Youth Prospects: The Cosmos formally placed offers with two players who ultimately signed Generation Adidas contracts with MLS. Those players were later reported by Empire of Soccer to be Jack Harrison and Julian Buescher. While the two players did opt to go with MLS, Savarese was pleased that the Cosmos were seen as another serious option for youth development.
National Team Talent: While discussing the signing and development of Alexis Velela, Savarese also informed the room of another signing. “We have signed Alexis and soon will be announcing another young player from the youth national team who has agreed with us to be able to sign.” He further clarified that the new talent would come from the same age bracket as Velela and Haji Wright.
Looking for MLS and Domestic Talent: “We have taken our time to find quality players. We’ve been making some offers to some players, even currently right now in MLS.” The Cosmos are also looking beyond the available talent in MLS to what may be on the way. “We are talking to a player that has been linked, as well, to an MLS club,” added the Venezuelan. “Very good speed, a player that can score goals.” A domestic striker was also brought up as a potential target. One of these players may have been Jairo Arrieta, the Costa Rican international with DC United last year and Columbus Crew before them. Arrieta does possess a green card which would not make him take up an international spot.
Talent from Abroad: The Cosmos also have their eye on a foreign center back who Savarese says they are close to signing. He apparently has experience with some very good teams and is still considered to be young. “I’m not afraid to say that with his experience he’ll be one of the top center backs in the country,” commented Savarese. Another foreign player was highlighted, an attacking mid who has played in the best leagues in the world. “He’s a player we still believe has a lot to offer. The signing of this player will bring a lot of enjoyment, especially to the fans, to see him play, as he’s a very unique player.” This could possibly refer to Juan Arango, a potential transfer target we reported on earlier. Savarese also referenced a foreign striker who plays on the national team for his country, but details here were scarce.
Savarese also went into a little more detail on the possibility of “name” players, as well as the possibility of seeing signings arrive during midseason, rather than before the spring season.
“We’re talking to some players that are big names, as well. We want to make sure that if we are going to sign a player that comes with a name, that we take our time to find the right player that is going to fit our team best in the locker room and on the field as we have done with Marcos (Senna) and Raul. They might come, they might not come, but it doesn’t take away that they may come in July or June because their situation might be better at that point.”
“Gio is very close with five or six players coming in. Over the next week, two weeks, expect announcements on the five or six players,” added Stover. “We are actively pursuing big names now. Something can happen in July if it can’t happen now.”
However soon signings will come, it’s become clear now why the Cosmos took such a slow approach to roster moves compared to the flurry of changes most of the other NASL clubs have already gone through.
“We can’t just pick a player, just to pick a player and say we like you, he’s fast, he can score goals,” said Savarese. “We have to see does he fit with the mentality of the team? Is he gonna be good in the locker room? Does he provide what we need? How long do we think we can keep this player where he is mentally?”
Whatever changes will come on the pitch however, the same supporting cast will be there to help direct it.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Cosmos announced contract extensions for Assistant Coaches Carlos Llamosa and Alecko Eskandarian (important for his Cosmos B duties, as well), Goalkeeper Coach Guillermo Valencia, and Fitness Coach Luis Gutierrez. Also, Luke Sassano, the former Assistant Sporting Director, was promoted to Technical Director.
While I had no doubt signings were on the way, it’s a relief to see a new face and hear about the other ones incoming, also to see the approach the Cosmos have taken in regards to signings.
While many clubs in the NASL have looked to re-signing NASL talent from other teams last season and some have dipped heavily into USL talent, it looks like the Cosmos are really interested in grabbing players at the MLS level or from abroad. While it might have been nice to see a Tommy Heinemann or Stefano Pinho on the roster, it appears the Cosmos are more interested in seeing what new blood they can bring into the NASL.
Slow and steady may have a chance to win the race, but it’s obviously too early to tell.