Questions still surround the Cosmos’ back-line ahead of second preseason leg

David Ochieng at the team’s media practice [Photo: Steve Hamlin/TICC]

Things seem to be coming together well for the Cosmos as the club prepares to head to Bermuda for the second leg of their preseason tour. In the first leg, the club won all three of their friendlies in the Dominican Republic but, more importantly, the team seemed to improve from match to match. As it stands, the Cosmos roster has twenty players under contract, but only two center backs.

Since the reboot, nothing has been more steady for the Cosmos than captain Carlos Mendes and Spaniard Ayoze holding down the defense. Both of them have over 100 caps with the Cosmos, but their partners have been a rotating cast of players since 2013. Going into the new season the other two spots in the back have yet to find a permanent placeholder.

Last season, Hunter Freeman looked to be the closest to being a regular member of the back-line before being sold to Miami FC. David Ochieng saw several appearances next to Mendes and has a good shot to make the position his own for the immediate future, but with injuries and call-ups for Kenya, he also gave time to Roversio when the Brazilian was healthy enough to play, as well as to loanee Jimmy Ockford.

Jimmy Mulligan returned to the club early from loan because of the lack of depth in the back and saw plenty of time at right back opposite of Ayoze. Ryan Richter was brought in from Bethlehem Steel after the USL season finished and started five of the club’s last six regular season matches, along with both post-season contests, over Mulligan at right back. Richter would go a full 90 in all of his appearances.

Gio addresses the media about moving to Brooklyn [Photo: Eytan Calderon/TICC]

So far the names are all the same for the Cosmos. Based on the trip to the DR, and by default based on roster depth, Mendes and Ochieng will be the starting center back pairing for the Spring. Mulligan and Ayoze have held down the fullback position more than anyone else, with David Diosa seeing time in the back as well. Richter has played both center back and full back and will likely see extended time in both positions throughout the season.

Trialist Taylor Peay showed promise in his appearances, but has yet to be signed. Gio mentioned at the first open-to-media practice that he was working with both a midfielder and center back from Spain, describing both as “tremendous”. Javi Marquez was revealed to be the midfielder, but we have yet to find out anything more about the center back.

Whether or not Peay makes the trip to Bermuda or a new trialist joins the team will be something to watch. Even with Richter switching over to CB, the position is very thin. Considering Ochieng is likely to continue receiving call-ups for Kenya, the age of Carlos Mendes, and the looming threat of injury for all three players, one or two more center backs would be welcomed.

Mendes, Amauri, Maurer, and Gio speak with media members [Photo: Eytan Calderon/TICC]

Peay seems likely to get a contract with the team, if they can agree on terms. Given what we saw in the DR he provides good depth and could push for a starting role. Roversio is still out of contract but, with so many former Cosmos already having signed with the team, it seems unlikely he will will be signed at this point, especially given his injury history the last few seasons.

Since the reboot the club has maintained typically 26 players at a time on the roster. Gio revealed at the Brooklyn event that the club was just finishing up a deal with a new Ukrainian signing, likely to be Eugene Starikov who impressed in the Dominican Republic. Starikov will be the club’s third forward, bringing the roster total to 21. Argentine attacker Emmanuel Ledesma also showed a lot of promise in his three appearances with the team, as did NASL veteran Kalif Alhassan and Italian Marco Marchionni, who has been linked with a move to the Cosmos for a while.

An official NASL match ball, signed by the Cosmos [Photo: Eytan Calderon/TICC]

Should the three midfielders sign along with Starikov that total would be brought up to 24. Filling the last two spots with defenders makes sense on paper. As is, this rendition of the Cosmos looks to be one of the most promising so far, especially if the trialists are signed. The idea of a center back coming out of the same vein as Javi Marquez to go along with this team makes the optimism surrounding the club that much sweeter.

With the grind of the Spring and Fall Seasons along with what is hopefully a deep Open Cup run, which will see the Cosmos enter a round earlier than they have in years past, the club’s entire roster will be tested. The Cosmos begin league play in just over two weeks’ time.

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