The stage was Chattanooga’s Finley Stadium on a warm summer evening.
No more than 20 seconds into the first extra time, Ibrahim Diaby swung his right boot through a backheel feed from Miguel Herlein on the edge of the 18 to stun the raucous record crowd of 18,227 into near silence. He sprinted towards the sideline, teammates in tow, in utter jubilation of the wonder goal he just scored.
Just before the stroke of halftime, Uwem Etuk found Julian Stahler on a breakaway for a tap in. As the ball rolled into the net, Stahler tore off his kit and sprinted towards the opposite sideline, knowing what the goal had meant.
And with this, the title had been sealed.
New York Cosmos B ended their rock and roll inaugural season by overtaking traditional NPSL powerhouses Chattanooga FC 3-1 on August 8th. It marked Alecko Eskandarian’s first title as a coach, and the hard-fought, undefeated season saw the MosB boys net 49 goals while conceding only 7. All in all, it was a very impressive season for the boys in green.
However, where does the B team stand this season? In a league known for its turnover and change, what does the squad look like roughly three months away from kickoff? First, let’s start with who’s sticking around this year:
Alecko Eskandarian’s technical staff will be returning for the 2016 NPSL season. Among the names to see on the sidelines are assistant John Fitzgerald, goalkeeper coach Steven Diaz, team administrator Brian Walsh, Cosmos Country’s derby hero (and athletic trainer) Mighty Mike Mayamoto, and Athletic Trainer Aphrodite Daphnis.
In between the sticks, fan favorite Kyle Zobeck (who featured last NPSL season due to injury rehab) will be a part of the Cosmos plans in the upcoming year, although it is likely he will be mainly competing for the backup keeper position on the first team with Brian Holt. This certainly opens the possibility of New Jersey native Johnny Morales, who earned time early in the first half of the season, to get into the mix.
Most of the back line that allowed only seven goals all of last season will be returning in 2016. Daniel Evuy, Uwem Etuk, former Notre Dame standout Andrew O’Malley, Gonzalo Rodriguez, Esetban Llamosa, and Nick Costa are all looking to build on last season’s defensive success.
The midfield, just like the defense, looks to have a good amount of continuity in 2016. The three big stories here are the returns of Ibrahim Diaby, Julian Stahler, and Hanif Wright. Diaby, who registered a brace in the NPSL Final, had a breakout year in 2015 that landed him a spot at the NPSL Combine where he shined. A humble player who is versatile all over the midfield, he is certainly a player to watch going forward. Stahler, who as previously mentioned scored the third goal in the NPSL Final, looks to build off a productive 2016 in front of goal. Hanif Wright, brother of former Cosmos Haji Wright, has been said to be a better prospect at this stage of his career than his brother was. Even though he did not get many minutes, the 16-year-old looks to build off his breakthrough into professional soccer. In addition to these three, former West Virginia player Travis Pittman, Christian Hernandez, and Vincent Mediate return for the title defense. It should be noted that Cosmos B MVP Ruben Bover (5 goals, 5 assists) will be returning for the first team in 2016.
Now, let’s take a look at the players who will not be returning, and the one big, new addition to Cosmos B going forward.
The only and most notable addition comes on the bench. Alecko Eskandarian leaves his duties after an undefeated season to focus on his job with the first team alongside Gio Saverese. To fill the gap, Fernando Barboto has been brought in. Barboto, a former All-American and longtime NCAA coach, is most well known for his job at Iona College. In his 13-year tenure, Barboto transformed the Gaels into a Division I powerhouse and left his post holding the record for most victories by a coach in the programs history.
In net, Keasel Broome is no longer with the club. Though he appeared sparsely for the club in 2016 due to the rehab stint of Kyle Zobeck, Broome held his own and was a contributor in Cosmos B’s sparkling defensive record. On February 2nd, it was announced that Broome had joined Bethlehem Steel’s camp (Philadelphia Union affiliate) ahead of their upcoming season.
The back line suffered arguably the biggest loss for the club ahead of the 2016 season. Captain John Neeskens, one of the most promising B players, will not be returning. Following a promotion to the first team near the end of last season that saw him receive zero playing time, his contract was not renewed. A solid centre-back with a knack for going forward, the former Barcelona academy product is still searching for his next soccer adventure.
The Cosmos B midfield graduated three players ahead of the 2016 season, most notably U.S. U-17 prospect Haji Wright. After a solid NPSL year that featured a few call-ups to the first team, it is reported Haji will sign with Schalke’s U-18 team come his 18th birthday. In addition, Brian Cunningham also left the team in favor of signing with New Zealand’s Waitakere United. Finally, Carl-Oscar Andersson will not be returning to the club and is now playing futsal for Göteborgs Atlet-& Idrottsällskap in his native Sweden.
Up top, forwards Miguel Herlein and Jenison Brito will not return to the club next season. Both were quality, but Herlein was especially so during his time in the NPSL. The Lisbon native and former Portugal youth star scored 16 goals in his time at Cosmos B but headed home following the NPSL final in order to explore more professional opportunities.
Finally, there are two U.S. U-17 products to look out for ahead of next season. Both defender Alexis Velela and midfielder Eric Cavillo have signed deals with the club and appear to be training with the first team as preseason starts, but it’s possible that we can see both on the B team come next season. Both have youth World Cup experience and are exciting prospects to keep an eye out for as they develop more.
All in all, it was great to see this Cosmos B side develop into a powerhouse last season with a multitude of exciting prospects. Although the team lost a few key pieces in Neeskens, Cunningham, and Herlein, the MosB boys return a good amount of their championship winning side and are looking ahead to another productive, successful, and exciting season in 2016. Here’s hoping they reach all of last year’s accomplishments and beyond, but hopefully with a final closer to home this time around.