Defending champion Cosmos aiming high in second season
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When you're the Cosmos, ordinary is rarely accepted.
Winning a championship in the team's return after a three-decade absence was merely a first step. This season's challenges are not only vying for a second North American Soccer League title, to prove the team's worth against Major League Soccer opponents in the Lamar Hunt/U.S. Open Cup, if not win it, and to add another big-name international player.
"We don't want to duplicate what the Cosmos were in the past, we don't want to duplicate last season," said coach Giovanni Savarese, whose team opened preseason practice at the Hofstra bubble Tuesday. "We have no pressure in this club. We are very keen on representing this club in the best possible way."
That's by winning, especially against MLS clubs. The only way to do that is in the Open Cup, a national competition open to amateur and pro clubs.
Defeating an MLS team would be a huge feather in the cap of the NASL, the second rung of the U.S. pro soccer pecking order.
"It would be a good thing for soccer," Savarese said. "It would show that soccer is growing in this country. It's going to show that there is good competition in the NASL. It would be a nice thing for the Cosmos to be back in winning something at that level. We have high hopes. We're striving for the best."
Because the early rounds of the tournament are regional, the Cosmos could meet the Red Bulls.
"If it's the Red Bulls, Seattle Sounders, whoever it's going to be, we hopefully want to go as far as we can, understanding that it's not going to be easy," Savarese said. "Let the fans enjoy the predictions about a possible Red Bull game against the Cosmos."
The Cosmos already have one big-name player in former Spanish international midfielder Marcos Senna. Former Spain striker Raul, 36, who has a multi-million dollar one-year contract with Al Sadd (Qatar), has been linked to the club.
"We're not talking to any player under contract," Savarese said. "We're just limiting ourselves and focusing on our team and hopefully are improving with more players like Senna. The fact we're the Cosmos allows us to attract these type of players. We're definitely looking for another important name. More than just a name, but a player that can bring a lot of experience."
Senna, the team MVP, turns 38 in July.
"He surprised us on how fit he was," Savarese said. "He was tremendous. We're looking for him to contribute the same this season. But we understand his age. We don't know how many games he's going to be absent. We're definitely going to look into week-to-week on how he's feeling."
If they win the NASL spring title, the Cosmos not only will secure a spot in Soccer Bowl, they will host. But Savarese must make sure the Cosmos don't suffer the same fate of last season's spring champ, Atlanta, which was lethargic during the fall season.
"In the event we are going to win, nothing's going to change," Savarese said. "We're not going to look at it as that we're in the final. We have players who may have guaranteed contracts, but that doesn't mean they have a guarantee to be part of the team. Everybody has to prove every day that they belong here."
The Cosmos have invited more than a dozen candidates to training, including Glen Cove native Mike Grella, the 2004 national high school player of the year. Grella has played for several clubs in the lower English leagues, most notably Leeds United and Scunthorpe United.
"He decided to come and train to get fit," Savarese said. "We'll see how the training goes and we'll decide also if there is maybe a possibility here."