However, despite the shine of their storied past decades ago, three titles in the last four years, and signings that have included Raul and Marcos Senna, things have not come easy for the club with hiccups along the way.
This year, some of those distractions were evident on the field as well, but the Cosmos still found a way to stay focused on their quest for another title.
The club started 2016 with four players who would not be there by the end of the year. Injuries claimed another pair of players late in the Fall season. The team missed out on the Spring title on a triple tie-breaker. Questions still abound about what 2017 holds for the Cosmos, who’ve yet to disclose a home field for next year. And, speaking of home fields, the NASL title match was held at tiny Belson Stadium in front of a sell-out crowd…of 2,150.
None of that mattered.
“There was nothing that this group was going to be distracted [by],” commented Head Coach Giovanni Savarese after the match. “These guys had their eyes on the prize from long ago and we could play at any venue but, at the end, they knew exactly what we needed to do wherever the game was going to be. It happened to be at St John’s. We have played here before so for us it was just about winning this match.”
A roster that boasted the starpower of Raul and Marcos Senna and sent them off to retirement with an NASL Championship at Hofstra University in 2015 looked vastly different this year. Niko Kranjčar was lost to Rangers FC at the midseason break. Mike Lahoud was pulled back from his loan by the Philadelphia Union and sold to Miami before the end of the Spring Season. Gabriel Farfan was also lost to the South Florida club at midseason who scored a major coup when they lured away longtime Cosmos defender Hunter Freeman in the Fall Season.
Further setbacks occurred throughout the season with the Cosmos losing up to four players at a time for international duty during difficult stretches and the losses of Sebastian Guenzatti and Lucky Mkosana for the duration of the season in the final push for the postseason.
To top things off, forward Jairo Arrieta was without an available substitution in the Final due to Lucky’s injury and the loss of Yasmani Duk to the Bolivian national team and center back Roversio again left the match early, forcing the entry of David Ochieng around the hour mark.
And yet, none of it stopped them. The Cosmos bounced back from a disappointing Spring by taking the Fall and Combined titles, coming back to win against Rayo OKC in the semis, and ultimately booked their right to host the Final“I think the Final was the example of the year that we have had. We never stopped to think about adversities or the situations. We thought about solutions and it was the same way today. Today was trying to figure out, we had no more subs, guys were hurt, and at the end we had to think about how to make it work. But you can make it work always when you have a group that are convinced, that are willing to work, when they can’t run no more, there is something inside of them that allows them to continue to go forward and a coach couldn’t be any more proud of what they did today.”
With two titles already logged in three years and the list of things to overcome above, just getting to this stage was already impressive. Having the chance to defend their NASL title could also have been a point of pride for the club. Except the club didn’t see it that way.
“For me, the biggest thing about this year is that the guys always felt that they wanted to win a new championship. They didn’t want to defend last year’s but they wanted to win a new one and I think that hungriness in wanting to win it showed especially in the Fall Season all the way to now.”
The team battled to the end of a grueling 120 minute match that required penalties to decide. This was a testament to their determination to play this one to the bitter end, no matter what their condition, how beat up they were after an extremely physical match.
“They gave everything. They played. Towards the end, some guys pulled muscles. At the end, they wanted this championship and a big credit to them.”
When the match finally went to penalties, the players had no intention of taking their foot off the gas. At the edge of the finish line, all players wanted to contribute, wanted to be a part of crossing it.
“Everybody,” answered Savarese when asked who requested to be a part of the penalty kicks. “Actually, we had to exclude some people. Everybody wanted to take.”
The Cosmos scored all four penalties they took with Ryan Richter, a member of the Ottawa Fury that fell just short in last year’s Final, scoring the title winner.
Colin Falvey, another member of that Ottawa side who currently captains Indy, had some thoughts on the tough loss and the Cosmos’ performance.
“Yeah, I definitely think a couple of things went their way, but sometimes winners make their own luck and they seem to be quite good at it,” said the Indy captain.
Savarese thought there was much more to it as he did something he doesn’t typically do during the course of the year…he looked back.“First of all, it means that every time you win a championship, as I said, you’re always looking to the next game. There’s no more games after this one, so now we can look back.”
“Looking at winning another championship, it gives you a lot that the work that was put in by the players, by the coaching staff, by the organization was the right work and when you do it back to back, it just shows consistency from the players.”