Forward Mads Stokkelien, who led the Cosmos in goals last season, relishes the possibility of playing next to the legendary Raul. Yet, he knows he isn't necessarily assured of a starting spot in the lineup for the NASL season-opener at the Fort Lauderdale Strikers tomorrow.
That's how deep the Cosmos are.
"It's going to be tougher for me to play," Stokkelien said Thursday after practice at Hofstra. "Last year I played every single game. It's going to be harder for everyone. If you want to win the championship we need to have players that are fit are ready to play every game."
After winning Soccer Bowl in 2013, the Cosmos failed to reach last year's final, prompting changes. The biggest addition was former Spanish international Raul, 37, who is considered one of the best strikers ever.
"He's so smart, such a good player even though he's growing older," Stokkelien said. "He's fit. He can do great things this year."
Other newcomers include NASL players forward Lucky Mkosana and midfielder Walter Restrepo, Major League Soccer veteran midfielder Adam Moffat, Paraguay defender Samuel Caceres and budding Under-17 star forward Haji Wright.
"This year we have a very good chance of winning," Stokkelien said. "For a club as big as the Cosmos and its history, anything else but winning a championship is failure. But that's how it is. That's the thing I like about this club."
Wright, who turned 17 March 27, signed with the club Monday, considered a major coup for a team that plays in the second tier of U.S. pro soccer.
A member of the U.S. U-17 team that qualified for the FIFA U-17 World Cup, Wright is highly regarded by most soccer observers. He said he was looking forward to practicing and playing with his idol, Raul.
"It's great for learning for a young player," Wright said.
Raul is old enough to be Wright's father.
"That's the beauty of soccer. That's how the youngsters learn," head coach Giovanni Savarese said. "That's why I thought it was so important for Haji to be in this environment, for him to be pushed, to be challenged, to be taught . . . He has an extraordinary person next to him, which is Raul, that definitely can give him plenty of advice."
Key returnees: Goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer, defenders Carlos Mendes, Roversio, Hunter Freeman, Ayoze, midfielders Marcos Senna, Danny Szetela, Andres Flores and Sebastian Guenzatti, forward Mads Stokkelien.
Key newcomers: Fowards Raul, Lucky Mkosana, Haji Wright, midfielders Adam Moffat and Walter Restrepo and defender Samuel Caceres.
Home opener: After playing their first two matches away, the Cosmos open up against the Tampa Bay Rowdies at Shuart Stadium at Hofstra University on April 18 at 7 p.m. Former Cosmos greats Pele and Franz Beckenbauer will be special guests.
Games of note: For the first time, the Cosmos will play at MCU Park at Coney Island in Brooklyn against the Ottawa Fury on May 2. The NASL spring season runs from Saturday through June 13 while the fall season starts July 5 and finishes Oct. 31.While not an official league game, the Cosmos will become the first U.S. pro sports team to visit Cuba in 16 years when they meet the Cuba national team in Havana June 2.
Playoff format: The spring and fall champions will clinch automatic berths. The next two teams that have accrued the most points over both seasons also will book spots.
New wrinkles: The Cosmos will have a developmental team, Cosmos B, which will kick off its National Premier Soccer League schedule against the Brooklyn Italians in the second game of a May 2 doubleheader.