Cosmos head coach Giovanni Savarese looks on during the game...

Cosmos head coach Giovanni Savarese looks on during the game against the Minnesota United at James M. Shuart Stadium. (Sept. 14, 2013) Credit: Getty

As a lethal shooter during his playing days, Giovanni Savarese forged a reputation as a striker who made toast out of defenders and goalkeepers.

As a Cosmos rookie coach, he knows on which side his bread is buttered -- defense.

Entering Sunday's 5 p.m. top-of-the-table clash against the Tampa Bay Rowdies (3-0-5, 14 points) at Shuart Stadium at Hofstra, the first-place Cosmos (4-1-3, 15 points) find themselves as the North American Soccer League's best defensive team, giving up seven goals in eight matches.

Central defenders Roversio and Carlos Mendes and flank defenders Hunter Freeman and Hunter Gorskie and goalkeeper Kyle Reynish have been a big part of the success, but Savarese said it went beyond the backline.

"I'm always a believer that a good defense doesn't start with the defenders, but with the attackers," he said. "Everybody has to contribute defensively. We're growing, we're maturing, for sure."

While many teams bring in Brazilians to boost their attack, it has been the reverse with Roversio, who has spearheaded a defense that has allowed three goals in five games (3-0-2) and recorded two shutouts since becoming a starter.

"Brazil has always been known as an offensive-minded team, but they always knew how to be strong and to win," Savarese said. "Brazil creates so many different players. We see so many great defenders who play for some of the biggest clubs. We're lucky enough to have a very strong player that has contributed in a big way."

The Cosmos are in the driver's seat trying to qualify for Soccer Bowl as the fall season champions.

We don't think [about] the future," Savarese said. "We're thinking about Tampa, that we need a win."

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