ICONIC COSMOS UP AND RUNNING IN THE NASL

Samindra Kunti – Three weeks ago Peri Marosevic struck after 44 minutes in the first half as the New York Cosmos returned to the NASL after an absence of 29 years. The Yugoslavian-born forward evaded Ford Lauderdale Striker´s goalkeeper Richard Sanchez, as he bundled home from close range. His inelegant finish was the coronation of a half dominated by the Cosmos. Marcos Senna´s rocket-like volley from 25 metres had been the best attempt by the hosts until Marosevic broke the deadlock.

It was a twice in a lifetime moment. On April 17, 1971 Randy Horton scored the first ever goal for the Cosmos against the St. Louis Stars in front of a tiny crowd of 3701. Few of them believed that they were witnessing the birth of America´s most iconic football club. Credited for bringing football to American shores the Cosmos have a historic timeline filled with global superstars and record-breaking numbers. In its heydays, the Cosmos´ popularity was unrivalled.

Empirical evidence suggested that popularity has remained : a bumper crowd of 11929 packed the Shuart stadium at Hofstra University in Hampstead, far outside New York´s city centre, to witness the new incarnation of the Cosmos take on their old rivals from Florida. With pomp and circumstance Pele, Carlos Alberto Torres and Cubillas announced the Cosmos were back and further spurred the anticipation. The tangible adulation of the fans for their legends resembled a teenage love story.

Walter Restrepo nearly spoiled the party on 72 minutes, taking advantage of clumsy defending at Cosmos´ rearguard, but in a show of resilience the Cosmos rallied as the game became more competitive and contentious. Alessandro Noselli´s soaring header at the end ensured that the Cosmos´ new rise to prominence got off to a good start.

Marcos Senna, a European championship winner with Spain, playing his first game on American soil, truthfully admitted that it had been a tough game, but the nucleus of the rebranded Cosmos seemed a good enough platform to build a credible team in the future: apart from Marcos Senna, head coach Giovanni Savarese can count on the likes of Carlos Mendes , former New York Red Bulls, Danny Szetela and a smattering of ex-MLS players.

While Savarese is in the process of building a new side, the Cosmos´ past may overshadow its new launch. Shep Messing poignantly said: “This is not magic, one step at a time. The team should be very proud of our history but the team should not be burdened with our legacy. They should create their own identity and I think we saw the first step.”

Yet the Cosmos emphasized their own mythical status in an attempt to disperse ideas that they are only New York´s third football team after the New York Red Bulls, firmly settled in the MLS, and the newly founded New York FC, backed by the New York Yankees and Manchester City. Talking up the NASL, the Cosmos try to be upbeat about their future in the NASL.

Not even the most ardent football fan can believe that three MLS teams based in New York would be economically viable, but the momentum and nostalgia were benign to the Cosmos  as Carlos Alberto Torres made an emotional plea to press and fans to stand behind a club and name that resonate around the world. He said: “Believe in the New York Cosmos. What we want is for people to believe that we’re going to create a great team here.”

However three weeks into the reboot of the much heralded New York Cosmos daily routine is slowly setting in as the Cosmos come to terms with playing in the second tier of American football. A goalless draw against Tampa Bay and a painful 3-0 defeat at the hands of the Carolina Railhawks, with Joseph Nane and Sebastian Guenzatti both sent off, have tarnished the new Cosmos brand a little.

Last Saturday the Cosmos faced the San Antonio Scorpions, on a three-game winless streak, in their second home game of the campaign. The glamour and glitz of the opener against Fort Lauderdale made way for a more worldly sentiment among the 6852 fans in attendance. With Noselli playing as a lone striker in Savarese´s preferred 4-2-3-1 system, the Cosmos took the lead through a Diaz strike in the 42nd minute. With tenacity and great footwork, he weaved his way through the box and found the top-left corner.

Box-to-box play and an ensuing bulk of chances plus a red card for San Antonio´s Greg Janicki were the ingredients for an engrossing spectacle in the second half. Zahorski equalized deservedly for the visitors with 25 minutes left, but a tactical masterstroke from Savarese decided the game: substitute Henry Lopez, 20, shored up the left channel of the field, while drifting into the box occasionally. With a flair for drama and in an apparently reoccurring pattern, the Cosmos grabbed another stoppage time winner when Lopez headed Marcos Senna´s cross into the bottom corner.

Seven points out of four games is a decent calling card, but the lack of firepower up front remains  coach Savarese´s principal concern. The resurrected Cosmos are still very much a work in progress.

Chants of “We want Belmont Park” before the game by a smidgen of fans echoed that same feeling off the pitch. More than nine months ago the Cosmos submitted a privately-funded development proposal to build a state of the art 25000-seat stadium at Belmont Park. New York state senator Jack Matins openly backs the Cosmos´ relocation ambitions, calling it “the single greatest economic development plan Long Island has seen in many years.” He recently hinted a decision about the proposed plan is imminent.

While the proposed stadium is projected to be completed by 2016, it´s overt proof of the Cosmos ´ambitious plans and commitment to establish professional football at Long Island. The Cosmos may no longer be regarded as the number one football team in New York City, but after an absence of 29 long years they are once more the talk of the town.

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