By DAN KARELL
It was just another New York Cosmos practice featuring a scrimmage until midway through the second half of play.
American-born English raised forward Jemal Johnson, who suffered a serious knee injury on the Cosmos’ preseason tour of London last July, came on the field for the final 10-15 minutes of the scrimmage to the applause of his teammates as he looks to return to full fitness ahead of schedule.
“The boys have said they’ve never heard of anyone getting a round of applause for their first game back in training but it put a smile on my face,” Johnson told SBI following practice. “I tried to hold it back but I really couldn’t hold it back in the end. It was brilliant to get back out there.”
Johnson made a handful of runs and overall looked confident on the ball in his short stint on the field, and his new challenge will be to gain enough fitness to be available for the final two weeks of the season plus a potential berth in the NASL Soccer Bowl.
Here are some more notes from Cosmos training this week:
COSMOS PLAYERS REACT TO SAVARESE EXTENSION
For all of the moves that the Cosmos have made in the run up to the season, maybe the smartest move of all was the hiring of head coach Giovanni Savarese last November.
Savarese and the technical staff have worked hard to take a group of near-strangers and mold them not only into a team but one that sits in first place. The announcement on Tuesday that Savarese has signed a contract extension was met with plenty of positive reactions from his players.
“I’m very happy and excited,” defender Carlos Mendes told SBI in a phone interview. “It’s an honor to play for (Savarese) and I think he’s been excellent for the club. I think he deserves it and I’m looking forward to working with him for the next couple of years.”
One of Savarese’s attributes that has helped him succeed with the squad he has is that as a former professional who had a long and successful career himself, he understands the players’ wants and needs during different situations throughout the season.
“I think it’s important that the players like a coach and in our locker room everyone loves Gio,” said midfielder Danny Szetela to SBI. “Sometimes he’s just like one of the other players on the team and I think that’s important for the guys to have a relationship like that with the coach.
“He gives us the confidence that a player needs to step on the field and perform at the highest level.”
SAVARESE EXPERIMENTING WITH FORMATION CHANGES
One of the changes seen in Cosmos training on Thursday was that with forward Alessandro Noselli gaining back his match fitness, he played on the first-team lineup in the scrimmage at the top of a 4-4-2 formation along with Stefan Dimitrov.
For most of the season, the Cosmos have gone with the commonly used 4-2-3-1 to much success, but with a target forward like Dimitrov and a poacher like Noselli, those two were given the chance to see how they play as a unit up top.
“We are trying to analyze the situation with the (San Antonio Scorpions) and we are trying to understand who will be a better fit for us at that particular moment or in a particular game,” Savarese told SBI. “So it’s something that we explored at the beginning and then we also saw Paulo (Mendes) come inside to play (alongside) Dimitrov. They’re options that we have. At the end, tomorrow, when we are (in San Antonio) already, then we’ll start thinking exactly who’s going to be in the starting eleven.”
Since recovering from a hamstring injury, Noselli has scored twice in as many games, both times coming off the bench to score.
OTHER NEWS AND NOTES
- Midfielder Marcos Senna was seen walking a little gingerly at the end of practice but Savarese brushed it off, saying that it was just the cold weather outside making knocks hurt a bit more than normal. Savarese made clear that Senna is fine and fit to play on Saturday.
- Ashani Fairclough seems to have ended his trial with the club and while they liked what they saw, a place on the team doesn’t look very promising. Savarese pointed to the fact that the team has a bevy of central defenders and that Fairclough would take up an international slot.
- Savarese said that he and the coaching staff have been reinforcing to the team that they must focus heavily on this weekend’s game and not get carried away with the Soccer Bowl talk.
- With a win on Saturday night against the San Antonio Scorpions, the Cosmos would clinch a place in the NASL Soccer Bowl against the Atlanta Silverbacks on November 9.
What do you think of these notes? Do you see Johnson returning to the field for a game prior to the end of the season? Do you agree with Mendes and Szetela’s comments on Savarese? Do you see Noselli starting next match?
Share your thoughts below.