The Cosmos' first official match of the 2014 season is now less than a month away, and the roster is starting to take shape. Like the 2013 fall season, the production the reigning champions get out of Marcos Senna will likely determine whether or not they are able to repeat as champions in 2014.
Senna just extended his Cosmos contract by a year, now taking him to July of 2015. That deal will run up until the player turns 39 years old, and likely means that the final competitive games of his career will be played wearing green and white.
Senna showed last season that his incredible vision and reading of the game were still enough to make him the best player in the NASL, even at an age where most top talent has hung up their boots and started on their post-footballing career. Senna, however, doesn't seem to be slowing down at all, and if his form thus far this preseason is any indicator, there's little reason to expect that he'll do so soon.
This season will provide a new challenge though, as New York will be playing 27 regular season contests, as well as potentially playing two more in the postseason and making a run at the U.S. Open Cup. How Gio Savarese manages his star player's minutes will probably be the determining factor in how much silverware the club wins this season. 2013 saw Senna start 14 of the club's 15 games, playing the full 90 minutes in 12 of those contests. Morcos missed the final match of the fall season through injury, though New York managed to defeat Atlanta in a meaningless contest anyway.
The Cosmos have solid cover for Senna this season, bringing back both Danny Szetela and Joseph Nane who saw multiple starts next to Senna last year. Over a 27-game season, Savarese should have the ability to rest his star midfielder and still comfortably make the playoffs. The split season format could see the club assured of postseason play before the World Cup gets underway though, as finishing atop the table after one round of fixtures would assure that the club will at least be hosting a semifinal game.in November.
Ideally, the club will come out of the preseason firing, having the sort of success in the spring season that they had last fall. Doing so will give Savarese the ability to manage Senna's minutes after he turns 28 in July, and the final 18 games of the season would matter only in the pursuit of the Supporters' Cup and determining whether they wind up as the #1 or #2 seed.
Whether or not the club finishes atop the spring standings or not though, Savarese ought to be making it a point to be resting the former Villarreal star regularly during the second half of the season. The overall talent in the squad should be plenty to assure that the Cosmos end up qualifying for a Championship playoff spot over the 27-game season, even if they don't manage to win either of the spring or fall seasons. Any time Savarese has the opportunity to rest Senna for a match, or even to pull him off early in a match already won, will go a long way towards keeping the player as fresh and injury-free as possible for the big knockout ties we'll be facing this season.