The North American Soccer League season only came to a close on Sunday, but already, it's time for the New York Cosmos to start thinking ahead to next season. More than any other club in the league, the 'Mos have some work to do to keep their squad as strong as this past season's group, as two key players are retiring.
The loss of Raul will be huge for the club, as he offered intangibles and marketability that are nearly impossible to find. On the pitch, however, Gio Savarese ought to have plenty of options to replace the Spanish legend, especially if the club announce the signing of Georgios Samaras, as expected, in the next several weeks.
Marcos Senna, on the other hand, will be nearly impossible to replace, just due to the unique blend of skills he possesses. Senna has spent the past three seasons as a calming presence in New York's midfield, seemingly always making the correct decision with the ball at his feet, and showing an uncanny ability to start attacks from the deep midfield while providing a tremendous screen for the central defense.
In addition to his ability to help start New York attacks, Senna was a real threat to finish them from anywhere on the pitch. His shots from long range have provided some big moments in the past, most notably the lone goal from the 2013 Soccer Bowl. He was also unbelievably dangerous from set pieces, and were it not for a brief Juninho Pernambucano cameo with the Red Bulls, he'd probably be regarded as the most dangerous set piece taker to ever play club football in North America.
The Cosmos actually have two excellent options in house to replace Marcos Senna's contributions from open play, in Danny Szetela and Adam Moffat. Szetela may not have the sort of passing range that Senna does, but his work off of the ball has been every bit as good as that of the former Villarreal man, and he's probably been even better than Marcos when attempting to win the ball back.
Moffat, meanwhile, can fire them from range with the best of them, though he's not the same sort of threat from a dead ball as Senna. He seemed to fit in fairly well with the club's style of play following a shaky start to the campaign, and it would have been interesting to see how he fit into Savarese's plans had he been fit at the end of the season.
Where the Cosmos are likely to struggle is in replacing Senna's dead ball threat, as there are probably only a handful of players in world football who can challenge Marcos in that regard. Ayoze's left foot can be a weapon from the right side of the pitch, but his kicks lack the sort of variety that Senna's boasted, and probably looked more effective than they actually were when coupled with the threat of a Senna strike. As it stands, Hunter Freeman would probably be the in house option for kicks bending right to left, and while he's done pretty well from the corner for NY, he's got a very tough act to follow.
For the Cosmos, finding a dynamic set piece taker should be a priority this winter, even if that player isn't cut from the same cloth as Senna. Marcos' unique ability from 35 yards and in certainly forced defenders to be more cautious with their fouling, which in turn, allowed the NY attack more room to work with inside of the final third. If they do that as well as adding a dominant aerial threat such as Samaras, I'll like their odds of repeating a lot more than I do right now.