The foundation of the 2013 Cosmos was built upon the league's strongest defense. A disciplined, organized unit allowed Gio Savarese's side to play a possession based style, and even when the club were struggling mightily to find the back of the opposition's net, they were still managing to accumulate points because they were so difficult to score against.
When the books closed on the 2013 campaign, New York had allowed just 12 goals in 15 total contests. They were even better when the pressure was on, allowing just a pair of goals in their final six fixtures, including a clean sheet in the Soccer Bowl. This excellent play is one of the main reasons most fans seem comfortable with Kyle Reynish's departure, as Jimmy Maurer won't likely be fed to the wolves when he steps into the starting lineup.
The strength of the Cosmos defense began in the center. Carlos Mendes captained the club, and was about as good as we could have expected in 2013. He spent the bulk of the season partnering Roversio, though some paperwork issues caused his debut to be delayed. Roversio was exceptional in 2013, and was probably the best center back in the league once he finally got on the pitch.
The right back position was a strength from the from the opening whistle, as Hunter Freeman was as good as anyone in the league during the fall campaign. The left back spot didn't make me quite as comfortable early on, but when Ayoze was asked to move from the midfield to left back in the middle of the season, the Cosmos really started to click as a team and the defense began to look like an elite unit.
For 2014, the Cosmos have brought back the entire first choice unit, and that group should be even better now that they've had a bit longer to gel. Hunter Gorskie will return as well, he was the team's primary defensive backup last fall. The versatile 22-year old started the season partnering Carlos Mendes, but also saw time at fullback after the arrival of Roversio. Also returning is James Nealis, who started the regular season finale at right back.
The club has only made one defensive addition before the season, but he's one that has raised eyebrows this spring. Jimmy Ockford was selected in the second round of the MLS draft by the Seattle Sounders, and after signing a contract with the northwestern club, he was sent on loan to the Cosmos. Savarese has used Ockford quite a bit during the preseason, and the defender has reportedly been solid defensively while contributing several goals from set pieces. While passing judgement based on preseason play is never a great idea, Ockford has been solid enough that I really want to see him get some action during the NASL season.
With the league's best starting defense returning intact, and looking to have added an interesting piece, it's hard not to get excited about their prospects for 2014. This unit was the foundation of a Championship side in their first season together, and there's little reason to believe they aren't capable of anchoring another title push in 2014. As long as this group stays healthy, it should be the best unit in the league again.