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State of the Cosmos’ Defense

Cosmos’ inconsistent defense needs to tighten up.

Soccer: Jacksonville Armada FC at New York Cosmos Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

The Cosmos’ defense in the spring 2016 season of the NASL was one of the most formidable in the league, allowing a mere eight goals.

However, kicking off the fall 2016 season, the Cosmos’ defensive record is a different story. The Cosmos are currently sitting in second place and are in danger of falling further after allowing eight goals in five games, a pace that is significantly greater than last season’s.

The Cosmos’ backline suffered a blow after losing veteran centerback Rovérsio Rodrigues de Barros to a hamstring injury in the team’s 3-2 win over Miami F.C. The defender was forced to miss the following three matches versus the Jacksonville Armada, Rayo OKC, and the Tampa Bay Rowdies; it is uncertain as to when he will return. This recent injury is hot on the heels of a knee injury that Rovérsio suffered in the spring season.

MLS: U.S. Open Cup-New England Revolution at New York Cosmos Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Despite Rovérsio’s absence the Cosmos were able to hold the Jacksonville Armada to a shutout, their second of the season, a large part of which was thanks to goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer who provided two key saves. In the following game the team was trounced 3-0 by Rayo due to the left foot of OKC’s Portuguese star Michele Pireira who put in two goals off a penalty and a free kick. Additionally, the Cosmos’ failed to close out their most recent game, against the Tampa Bay Rowdies, due to poor defending. The Cosmos’ were leading the Rowdies 2-0 when they conceded goals in the eighty-fifth and ninety-sixth minutes to end the game in a draw.

Regardless of the season’s defensive struggles, the Cosmos’ defense is laden with talent, experience, and potential, making their performance even more baffling. Outside backs Hunter Freeman and Ayoze García Pérez were named the Cosmos’ Player of the Year in 2014 and 2015, respectively. They are also key parts of the Cosmos’ attack, sending in accurate crosses and often times helping on set pieces.

Centerback and team captain Carlos Mendes was the team’s first signing in the inaugural 2013 season and was named to the NASL best XI in both 2014 and 2015. Mendes is thirty-five years old and consistently displays his defensive prowess but occasionally seems to have lost a step of speed when marking forwards.

Soccer: Jacksonville Armada FC at New York Cosmos Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

David Ochieng, David Diosa, and Alexis Velela are all prospects that have the potential to lead the Cosmos for years to come. Ochieng is a young centerback and current international with the Kenyan national team and signed with the Cosmos in 2016. Ochieng and twenty-three year old Seattle Sounders loanee, Jimmy Ockford, have been filling in for the injured Rovérsio. Diosa is a speedy outside back that has been with the Cosmos since his U-18 days and penned a contract extension back in 2015. He is adept on both sides of the pitch. At seventeen years of age, Alexis Velela is one of the Cosmos’ youngest players. Velela was a staple in the United States U-17 team during their 2015 CONCACAF U-17 Championship and is competent in a number of positions, providing depth all around.

Throughout the disappointments there have been shining moments for the team, such as their shutouts of the Armada in league play and NYCFC in the U.S. Open Cup. While the backline may be aging, with Freeman, Ayoze, Mendes, and Rovérsio all over the age of thirty, the younger players that management has signed recently has set up the team for long term success.

The Cosmos’ defense has started off the fall season slowly, leaving many fans frustrated. However, if they begin to gel and play at the level that they displayed in the spring season, the Cosmos’ will be a major contender for the championship.