PHOENIX – The big names come at him in a rush. Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe, Neymar. It’s enough to cause any goaltender to flinch.
Not Josh Cohen. For the former Phoenix Rising FC goaltender, it was all part of the plan.
In 2009, Cohen was playing high school soccer for Bellarmine College Preparatory, a private Jesuit school in San Jose, California. Last Wednesday, he started for Israelian side Maccabi Haifa in a Champions League match against Paris St-Germain.
“I always knew he was good,” said Nick Butler, who played alongside Cohen in high school and now coaches at the same school.
“However,” Butler added, “I would be lying to you if I said I ever thought I’d be watching him in the Champions League.”
After high school, Cohen played at UC San Diego, where he started for three and a half seasons. Cohen’s college coach, Jonathan Pascale, also had an inkling Cohen could be somebody special.
“He was somebody who really developed each year,” Pascale said. “You would see these glimpses of incredible saves in practice.”
From college, Cohen bounced around a few soccer teams before arriving at Phoenix Rising in 2017. He immediately made it known to everyone around him that he was keen to improve and advance his career.
But he did more than talk. Cohen did the work.
His Rising goalkeeper coach, Cory Robertson, said Cohen became a film junkie to improve his game.
“That’s something that really took off with Josh here,” Robertson said. “It’s kind of what quarterbacks do with film. We just did a lot of film, a lot of breakdown on himself and the opponent.”
During his season with the Rising, Cohen did more than just watch film to improve himself as a goalkeeper. He tackled his research with an unusual, meticulous eye.
“He actually had a whole spreadsheet about how to get in the MLS by a certain age,” Robertson said. “He did a study on all professional American goalkeepers and how their career trajectory went, and by what age as well.”
During that season with the Rising, Cohen tied for ninth in the USL with 79 saves and had the 10th most clean sheets with eight shutouts.
When he was in Phoenix, Cohen’s goal was to be a starting goalkeeper in the MLS. He has surpassed even that. Now, he is playing against stars such as Messi, Mbappé and Neymar, in one of the most prestigious leagues on the planet.
“I think being in the MLS might be a bit of a downgrade from what he’s doing now,” Robertson said. “I know that he does want to come back to the U.S. eventually, but I’d love to see him at a Premier League club in England.”
Cohen has vastly improved from his stint in Phoenix. In fact, he was awarded Israeli Player of the Season in 2020-21, after helping Maccabi Haifa win the title with his 16 clean sheets.
Maccabi Haifa’s next Champions League game does not get any easier for Cohen as the team travels to Turin and to take on Juventus on Oct. 5.