Samindra Kunti – “Soccer is a Kick in the Grass” v “This is Cosmos country”. It´s hard to voice your support for any of these slogans. The first seems to be a blatant platitude, the second a bit snooty. Indeed, the precise extent of the Cosmos´ claim to their country has never been clear, but this Sunday afternoon one of the fiercest rivalries in the history of North American soccer returned with the Cosmos hosting the Tampa Bay Rowdies in a battle for first place in the NASL.

The New York Cosmos ahead of their game against the Tampa Bay Rowdies at James Shuart stadium, Hempstead, NY on Sunday, September 28, 2013. © Samindra Kunti

The New York Cosmos ahead of their game against the Tampa Bay Rowdies at James Shuart stadium, Hempstead, NY on Sunday, September 28, 2013.
© Samindra Kunti

Earlier this week, Cosmos legend Shep Messing had shed some light on the rivalry in the seventies between the two clubs. “Rodney Marsh [Tampa Bay Rowdies striker] was as charismatic and outspoken as anybody – and we were the Cosmos with Pele and all the superstars. Rodney at a press conference before one of the games was asked if he felt he was the white Pele. Rodney, who is pretty quick witted, said no, he is the black Rodney Marsh! Pele was a little miffed by it.” Messing explained.

The rivalry at the time became larger-than-life: a band of superstars, record crowds and high end entertainment propelled the beautiful game to unprecedented heights in the US. Messing considered it to be a seminal moment for the Cosmos in the seventies, implying that the Rowdies too were instrumental in boosting soccer´s popularity on American soil. In 1977, Messing shined and the Cosmos knocked the Rowdies out of the NASL with a comprehensive 3-0 victory, thanks to two goals from Pele and one from Chinaglia.

Gone are those days of glitz and glamour, but the second tier of American soccer, which the NASL has effectively become, was unwavering in its attempt to regain some of that gone by glory as the top two outfits in the league squared off. And while a 29 year-hiatus may have cooled off some of the rivalry, its new incarnation did not disappoint. Classic Cosmos and classic Rowdies: fierce play, bags of commitment and a galore of goals.

Cosmos coach Savarese must have been fuming though at the interval with his goalkeeper Kyle Reynish, who got badly exposed in the 32nd minute when he rushed out to intercept the ball, but found himself caught in no-man’s-land with lethal Georgi Histrov coolly steering the ball into the net. On the stroke of half time, Reynish was dawdling in no-man´s land again. Lucky Mkosana took advantage of Reynish´s suicidal habits and chipped the ball over the desultory goalkeeper. The Rowdies were 3-1 up at the break.

The goal fest continued as the Cosmos impressed with an authoritative performance in the second half to pull off an unlikely victory. With Hagop Chirishian coming on for Peri Marosevic in the 57th minute, the Cosmos showed a positive attitude early on, resulting in a fair few numbers of corners. Brazilian Paulo Mendes pulled a goal back in the 63rd minute before Diomar Diaz, with a solo run through the heart of the Rowdies defense, dispatched the ball into the top-right corner in the 80th minute.

Marcos Senna and his silk touch provided the climax of the game two minutes later. He curled the ball with meticulous precision, but at the same time a sense of nonchalant flair, over the Tampa Bay wall and into the bottom-right corner of the net. Rowdies goalkeeper Diego Restrepo stood momentarily flabbergasted as the home fans celebrated in total delirium.

Senna had shown utter class in deciding the game – in a way the likes of Pele and Chinaglia would have done in the past. Messing called it “nanoseconds-moments”. He lauded the way Savarese´s men had dug in and not given up, drawing another parallel with the past. The new Cosmos will feel that reaching the 2013 Soccer Bowl against the AtlantaSilverbacks may be a chance to step out of the shadows of the past. With a cushion of four points at the top of the NASL, they might well be on their way.



The New York Red Bulls warm up ahead of their game against FC Dallas at the Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ on Sunday, September 22, 2013. © Samindra Kunti

The New York Red Bulls warm up ahead of their game against FC Dallas at the Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ on Sunday, September 22, 2013.
© Samindra Kunti

Samindra Kunti – Thierry Henry struck a pose again last week against Toronto FC – leaning against the stanchion, head casually held down and a hand on hip, implying “You have seen me score before” – and with it started an online trend. Twitter exploded with Photoshopped variants under the hashtag #Henrying. Muhammad Ali, Star Wars, E.T., Games of Thrones and the inevitable Miley Cyrus were all thrown into the mix.

Henry seemed amused by all the #Henrying. “It’s kind of funny at the end of the day. There is nothing behind the celebration. I needed a rest . I stopped there, saw the post in Houston; saw the post the other day, was basically by it, so I stopped by it.” the New York Red Bulls´ captain said Friday after practice.

The pleasant online folly reflects the upbeat spirit permeating the Red Bulls camp at the moment. Sitting top of the Eastern Conference and on a three game winning streak, the Red Bulls have put the days of a mid-season slump and Mike Petke´s altercation with Henry behind them. Petke, intent on attacking football at the start of the season with a 4-3-3, has switched his formation to a pragmatic `get a result´- 4-4-2 and the Red Bulls have been reaping the benefits in recent weeks.

But a result against FC Dallas long seemed in doubt. At half-time the Red Bulls had not managed a single attempt on target. Carney curled a free kick, earned by Cahill, just wide and a goal-line scramble nearly had FC Dallas´s George John score a comical own goal, only for the woodwork to save John´s face. Henry skewed his shot in front of the goalmouth when teed up by Fabian Espindola.

Those were rare highlights from a half in which the Red Bulls exerted mere sterile pressure on FC Dallas´s rearguard. There was no consorted effort from Petke´s men to impose themselves: with Bradley-Wright Phillips hobbling off injured with a strained right hamstring after twenty-six minutes, the Red Bulls missed any sense of direction and purpose. There was a distinct lack of guile and offensive dynamics in the final third of the field.

It was telling that Jamison Olave stood out – for his defensive interventions in the first half. Petke acknowledged the importance of his number four after the game. “Olave has had a rejuvenation in his career. His defensive play this year has been amazing. If you want to teach a youth player how to defend one on one, you show him Olave.” said Petke.

Petke also had praise for his goalkeeper Luis Robles, who ensured the Red Bulls earned a tenth shutout this season. Robles produced a crucial one-handed save at the stroke of half-time when Fabian Castillo was left in space inside the box. “You expect a goalkeeper to come up with one huge save a game. A game changing save and Robles has done that, if not more than that.” commented Petke.

The second half was a more open -ended affair. Henry came agonizingly close to breaking the deadline, but his header, meeting Espindola´s cross from the right, sailed inches wide. Dax McCarty´s and Tim Cahill´s unwearying labour in the midfield ensured the Red Bulls dominated the better part of the second half as FC Dallas started to tire.

With the clock ticking down, Petke became visibly more nervous on the touchline. He urged his troops to push forward with wild gesticulations. The Red Bulls didn´t have their opponents in a stranglehold, but did tighten their grip on the game. It was Erick from FC Dallas, who provided relief for the hosts when he slid and steered Jonathan Steele´s cross into the back of his own net with fourteen minutes left. Eric Alexander should have put the game to bed two minutes later: face to face with FC Dallas´goalkeeper Raul Fernandez, Alexander opened his hips too soon enabling Fernandez to correctly guess the curve of the ball.

The Red Bulls continue to sit at the top of the Eastern Conference with a three-point lead over Sporting Kansas City. Petke and co travel to CenturyLink Field next week to take on Western Conference leaders Seattle Sounders.

Match details:

New York Red Bulls 1, FC Dallas 0
September 22, 2013 – Red Bull Arena – Harrison, NJ
MLS Regular Season

Scoring Summary:
NY: Erick (own goal) 76’

New York Red Bulls (15-9-6, 51 points) – Luis Robles, Kosuke Kimura, Jamison Olave, Markus Holgersson, David Carney, Eric Alexander (Brandon Barklage 84’), Dax McCarty, Tim Cahill, Jonny Steele, Thierry Henry, Bradley Wright-Phillips (Fabian Espindola 32’)

FC Dallas (10-9-10, 40 points) – Raul Fernandez, Matt Hedges, Kellyn Acosta, Jair Benitez (Michel 88’), George John, Andrew Jacobson, Jackson (Mauro Diaz 65’), Fabian Castillo, David Ferreira, Erick (Kenny Cooper 82’), Blas Perez

Referee: Matthew Foerster
Attendance: 18,976


The New York Red Bulls and Toronto FC line up at the Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ on Saturday, September 14, 2013.

The New York Red Bulls and Toronto FC line up at the Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ on Saturday, September 14, 2013.
© Samindra Kunti

Samindra Kunti – For unclear reasons the New York Red Bulls sported their away outfit of dark blue shirts and yellow shorts at their own arena against Toronto FC last Saturday. On the road the Red Bulls have struggled this season, but last week the New York team hammered Houston FC 1-4 away from home. In their away outfit at home the Red Bulls continued their good sequence with a decent 2-0 victory over Toronto FC.

It was a game the Red Bulls were favoured to win, having picked up 28 points at home this season. A tally surpassing Toronto´s 23 points collected in total so far. Surprisingly the visitors, coached by Ryan Nelsen, had the better of the play in the opening minutes, pressing the home side deep into their own half.

Kimura´s stretching intervention cleared Bloom´s dangerous cross from the right channel after 15 minutes. Dax McCarthy´s attempted a meek volley at the other end. For all Toronto´s domination and probing though, there first clear-cut chance materialized after 25 minutes when Wiedeman´s diving header from Alvaro´s cross nearly kissed the crossbar.

Then Thierry Henry took centre stage. Against the run of play he put the Red Bulls in front after 32 minutes: Bustamante´s pass found Alexander in behind the back of a terribly marking Morgan; Alexander composedly squared it for Henry to simply tuck it in at the far post. Henry´s celebrated his goal by showing off his new trademark celebration in leaning against the post.

Yet it was a clear statement from the Frenchmen, underlining his importance to the Red Bulls. The club captain and coach Petke were involved in a heated bust-up on August 29 during a training session. And while the content of the fiery exchange remains shrouded in mystery, the beleaguered Petke covertly admitted earlier in the week that the argument with Henry had galvanized the Red Bulls.

Henry himself showed a positive attitude on the field. A permanent feature of his game was dropping back to carry out defensive duties. Bradley Wright-Phillips and Henry had been feeding of scraps, playing in total isolation up front. Henry sensed this and duly took up defensive responsibilities. The Red Bulls´ number fourteen showed no sign of discontent in doing so.

Henry´s goal and the preceding interplay with Alexander and Bustamante were the sole highlight in a rather ugly first-half with the Red Bulls and Toronto both battling for midfield supremacy, but after Henry´s goal the Red Bulls took control of the match, which reflected in 61.4 % of ball possession for Petke´s men at the interval.

The only satisfaction Petke could take from the first half was the numerical advantage on the scoreboard. The Red Bulls had put in an underwhelming act against uninspired and weak opposition. But Petke´s half-time talk did not spur particular improvement after the break.

More industry and slow ball movement in the middle of the park permeated the course of the second half. Toronto were clanging on to keep their chances of making the play-offs alive, while the Red Bulls looked to extend their lead. Thierry Henry´s cross found Holgersson deep inside the box after 60 minutes, but from a difficult angle the Swede´s header was an easy catch for Toronto goalkeeper Joseph Bendik.

Bradley Wright-Phillips, indifferent, squandered an opportunity at the edge of the box a few minutes later when his low attempt lacked any sort of power, but he tested Bendik a little later with a strong header. The Toronto goalie did well to prevent a second Red Bulls´ goal. But as Ryan Nelsen threw on Bright Dyke, recently acquired from the Portland Timbers and a Super Eagle on November 14, 2012 against Venezuela, the Red Bulls decided the game with an unlikely goal from Fabian Espindola.

Espindola had came on for Bradley-Wright Phillips and instantly proved to be a super-sub for Mike Petke. Barely a few seconds on the field, Espindola was first to react to a flick on by Steven Caldwell from David Carney´s deflected cross and Espindola´s header from an improbable, if not impossible, angle deceived Bendik to double the Red Bulls´s advantage. It was a header Espindola couldn´t have nailed better.

It was sluggish from the Red Bulls at times, but Petke indicated in the post-match press conference that he was satisfied with his team´s performance and happy with the three points.The Red Bulls now move to the top of the MLS Eastern Conference, opening up a three point advantage over nearest rivals Montreal Impact and Kansas City with five games left in the regular MLS season.

Match Details:

New York Red Bulls 2, Toronto FC 0
September 14, 2013 – Red Bull Arena – Harrison, NJ
MLS Regular Season

Scoring Summary:
NY: Thierry Henry 9 (Dax McCarty 3, Michael Bustamante 1) 32’
NY: Fabian Espindola 8 (unassisted) 80’

New York Red Bulls (14-9-6, 48 points) – Luis Robles, Kosuke Kimura, Jamison Olave, Markus Holgersson, David Carney, Eric Alexander, Dax McCarty, Michael Bustamante (Peguy Luyindula 90’), Jonny Steele, Thierry Henry, Bradley Wright-Phillips (Fabian Espindola 79’)

Toronto FC (4-14-11, 23 points) – Joe Bendik, Gale Agbossoumonde, Ashtone Morgan, Steven Caldwell, Mark Bloom, Jeremy Hall, Jonathan Osorio, Alvaro Rey (Kyle Bekker 88’), Bobby Convey, Andrew Wiedeman (Bright Dike 75’), Justin Braun (Jonas Elmer 53’)

Referee: Edvin Jurisevic
Attendance: 17,236


The New York Red Bulls meet old rivals DC United at the Red Bulls Arena in Harrison, NJ on Saturday, August 31, 2013. © Samindra Kunti

The New York Red Bulls meet old rivals DC United at the Red Bulls Arena in Harrison, NJ on Saturday, August 31, 2013.
© Samindra Kunti

Samindra Kunti – Lloyd Sam put the New York Red Bulls ahead after eight minutes. He cheekily lobbed Bill Hamid with a cross-shot. The visiting goalkeeper promptly got a hand to the ball, but referee Juan Guzman correctly observed that the ball had crossed the goal line in its entirety. In the opening exchanges of the game Sam´s pace and liveliness had already unsettled his direct opponent James Riley and the DC backline. It would be a feature throughout the first half.

While Sam and Jonny Steele were very industrious on the wings for Red Bulls, DC United threatened seriously for the first time after 27 minutes with a beautifully crafted attack on the right channel but Lewis Neal blasted De Rosario´s low cross just wide. The visitors did equalize in the 36th minute: De Rosario´s cross from the left found DeLeon completely unmarked. MLS debutant Carney sprinted to cover ground, but DeLeon cut past Carney with his right foot in a Bergkamp-esque style to slam it in from close range with his other foot.

DC United´s joy was short-lived. Australian international Tim Cahill restored the lead for the hosts two minutes leader with a powerful , downward header from Steele´s nifty cross. It was the Australian´s eight goal of the MLS-campaign, making him New York Red Bulls´ top scorer this MLS-campaign. Bradley Wright-Philips nearly extended the New York Red Bulls´ advantage before the break but his glancing header went wide.

The visitors came out of the dressing room refreshed and immediately seized the initiative: Luis Robles spilled De Rosario´s curling attempt, but managed to smother it before further danger could ensue. In the 51st minute Luis Silva, the midfield spine of DC United, hit the woodwork with a header. With the pressure mounting on the home defence , Tim Cahill signalled he was in need of substitution. The Australian, putting in a formidable performance slightly up field, left the field with a right ankle injury for Thierry Henry.

The Frenchman made an immediate impact injecting pace and firepower into his team. He first curled a shot just past the bottom right corner before the omnipresent Sam got Henry in a good position, but the number 14 was unable to direct his header. In a horrible mix-up between Robles and defender Ibrahim Sekagya, the latter felled De Rosario. Referee Guzman pointed to the spot and sent Sekagya packing. Robles saved De Rosario´s nonchalantly taken penalty with a save to his right-hand side.

Petke made his intentions clear after Sekagya´s sending off in bringing on James Olave for Bradley Wright-Phillips. It was Robles´s save that would prove to be the difference between the two teams as the Red Bulls bastion held firm.

The New York Red Bulls, in defeating old rivals D.C United, not only won the Atlantic Cup, but moved up to 42 points. A good tally in the race for a play-off spot. A sigh of relief was tangible around the Red Bulls Arena at the end of an intense, but victorious evening for the New York Red Bulls.

Match Details:

New York Red Bulls 2, D.C. United 1
August 31, 2013 – Red Bull Arena – Harrison, NJ
MLS Regular Season

Scoring Summary:
NY: Lloyd Sam 3 (Tim Cahill 4) 8’
DCU: Nick DeLeon 1 (Dwayne De Rosario 2) 36’
NY: Tim Cahill 8 (Jonny Steele 5) 38’

New York Red Bulls (12-9-6, 42 points) – Luis Robles, Brandon Barklage (Kosuke Kimura 33’), Markus Holgersson, Ibrahim Sekagya, David Carney, Lloyd Sam, Eric Alexander, Dax McCarty, Jonny Steele, Tim Cahill (Thierry Henry 58’), Bradley Wright-Phillips (Jamison Olave 76’)

D.C. United (3-18-5, 14 points) – Bill Hamid, James Riley, Chris Korb, Daniel Woolard, Dejan Jakovic, Perry Kitchen, Lewis Neal (Conor Doyle 67’), Nick DeLeon (Collin Martin 80’), Jared Jeffrey (John Thorrington 18’), Dwayne De Rosario, Luis Silva

Referee: Juan Guzman
Attendance: 17,372