Well, that was fast.
Not even a 29-year break in the history of their franchise could stop the New York Cosmos’ dominance of the North American Soccer League.
The Cosmos, winners of five league titles (including four Soccer Bowls) over an 11-year span beginning with their second year of existence (in 1972), rebooted this season with a sixth NASL championship on Saturday night.
Starting its modern era with a Fall Season title, New York (10-1-4) defeated the NASL Spring Season champion Atlanta Silverbacks (4-7-4 in the Fall) in perhaps the most fitting way possible, with 37-year-old Brazilian-born, Spanish defender Marcos Senna — the Cosmos’ talented elder statesman and the heart and soul of a deep roster — scoring the match’s lone goal in the 50th minute at Atlanta Silverbacks Park.
Exactly a week earlier, New York likewise won 1-0, on the same field as the Cosmos and Silverbacks were simply playing out the Fall Season schedule, which ended with New York on an 11-game unbeaten streak.
With another championship in tow, make that a dozen straight games, and probable 2014 Soccer Bowl favorites as defending champions next spring.
As head coach Giovanni Savarese and several Cosmos players acknowledged all season, New York had a target on its back, mainly because of what the team was able to list on the backs of the green t-shirts it gave away to a sellout crowd at the team’s first match nearly three decades, on August 3: the club’s five previous NASL title years (1972, ’77, ’78, ’80 and ’82).
Yet, with a Savarese doing a terrific job of quickly getting his team to gel while keeping it very focused, New York rose above that pressure all season, especially at home, where the Cosmos were unbeaten (5-2-0), including a 1-1 draw with the Silverbacks on September 7.
On the front of those fans’ t-shirts, was written, “This Is Cosmos Country.” Given the way the last two Saturdays went, the Cosmos turned Atlanta into Cosmos Country in front of a sizeable contingent of boisterous New York supporters who followed them to this year’s Soccer Bowl as part of the 7,211 in attendance.
“To end the season with a championship, and in front of so many of our fans, who came to Atlanta to support us, is just special,” Savarese said proudly.
“I’m grateful to the fans who made the 14-16 hour road-trip,” Senna added. “Our fans are the 12th man and they deserve this moment and this championship.”
What they initially saw was Californian goalkeeper Kyle Reynish, the 2013 NASL Golden Glove Award winner, making a couple of nice stops early in the match, en route to posting his league-leading seventh shutout of the fall, before the Cosmos went on the attack.
“Kyle [was] the best goalkeeper in the league this season,” Savarese said. “He’s done a tremendous job.”
Shooting from point blank range in the 17th minute, Bulgarian forward Stefan Dimitrov was the first to test Atlanta goalie Joe Nasco (four saves), who was brilliant while keeping the match scoreless throughout the first half.
Forward Diomar Diaz, who like Savarese, hails from Venezuela, nearly found the net twice in the 21st minute. After shooting just wide, Diaz, who scored three big goals in consecutive September victories during New York’s push to its regular season title, had another good chance seconds later, but he sent a nice crossing pass from Long Island, New York native and team captain Carlos Mendes a bit high.
Seven minutes later, Uruguayan midfielder Sebastian Guenzatti, from New York City, took his time in the box with a cross from Texan defender Hunter Freeman, but instead of taking a more controlled shot, he blasted the ball over the net.
In the next minute, Senna, who became so dangerous on free kicks during the season, bent a freebie from just outside the box toward the left post, but Nasco made a great diving stop.
Spanish midfielder Ayoze then set up Brazilian midfielder Paulo Mendes (who made NASL Finals history by facing his twin brother, Atlanta’s Pedro Mendes) in front of the goal in the 35th minute, but Mendes couldn’t get enough on the ball to redirect it into the net. A minute later, Dimotrov had another chance from close range that he sent right at Nasco.
Five minutes into the second half, the Cosmos finally broke through when a 25-yard free kick into the box by Ayoze was headed out to the edge of the box.
That’s where Senna, whose championship-winning goal was his team-leading sixth of the fall, controlled the ball at the edge of the box, patiently and smartly arched a high shot over a leaping Nasco and into the upper left corner of the net.
Always the consummate team player, Senna, playing with New York after appearing in 292 matches over 11 seasons with Spanish club Villareal CF, said through an interpreter, “The goal wasn’t mine, it was a goal for everybody. I think our job was hard, but it was worth it. We deserve this championship and that goal ices everything we did in the season… it was a moment of happiness. It summarizes the whole season.”
Carlos Mendes said of Senna, “He’s done it all year. He’s just so clever. He had a little bit of time and just kind of calmly put it into the corner… it’s been an honor to play with him.”
To Senna, that feeling is mutual.
“I definitely want to return next year, and play more years if my body feels right,” he said. “I want to end my career with the Cosmos.”
Atlanta, which won the Spring Season by one point, with a 6-3-3 mark, applied its own pressure on a couple of occasions after Senna’s goal, putting a ball into the box in the 61st and 62nd minutes, with the Cosmos clearing each time.
Sixteen minutes later, Reynish stopped defender Shane Moroney from just eight yards away, and later, during the first of five stoppage time minutes, New York’s always aggressive keeper came out of the net to punch a corner kick away.
When the final whistle blew, the Cosmos, previously absorbed by the immediate task at hand all season, were at last able to celebrate the fruits of their hard work in a mob that included fans at midfield.
“The New York Cosmos are back,” Savarese declared after the celebration. “We worked very hard this season to play in the NASL. We had to come in the second part of the season, and we didn’t have much time to work. Tonight, winning the championship and bringing it back to New York, is a proud moment for me and everyone on the team… I am very proud of the guys. It was well deserved, this championship. They’ve done great throughout the season. They’ve worked very hard. It paid off today… against all odds, they did an amazing job.”
As did Savarese, who following the Cosmos’ final home game — in which a last-minute goal by Edmonton spoiled what would have been another Reynish shutout while forcing the Cosmos to clinch the fall regular season title on the road — promised Cosmos fans that their team would “give one hundred percent to bring the championship back to New York.”
And they did, picking up right where New York’s fabled predecessors — with the star power of Pele, Carlos Alberto, Franz Beckenbauer and Shep Messing — left off.
That Cosmos era, along with the NASL, ultimately folded following the 1984 season, but the league resurrected itself two years ago, one year after today’s Cosmos were officially reestablished. Since then, the vision of regenerating the franchise into a semblance of its early glory years has rapidly taken shape.
New York currently plays its home matches back at one of its early roots, at Hofstra University, on Long Island, where the Cosmos captured their first title, in the 1972 NASL Final (which predated the subsequent Soccer Bowl name). The club will do the same next season, with plans to build a state-of-the-art, 25,000-seat soccer stadium to be ready by the start of the 2015 season in the nearby parking lot of the famed Belmont Raceway.
Pele, Alberto and Messing were all on hand at Hofstra’s James M. Shuart Stadium, with its 11,929-seat capacity completely occupied for New York’s season opener, but the Cosmos’ average attendance dipped to 6,859 for their seven home games in the fall.
Of course, nothing will help to fill the proposed new stadium more than the current squad following in the footsteps of the old Cosmos, while adding more NASL titles, or perhaps achieving similar success after a possible move up to Major League Soccer.
So far, so good on that one, in just one season, as New York prepares to again spread the famous Cosmos name across the globe with a tribute match for Senna against Villareal CF in Spain, on November 13.
Next year, the eight-team NASL will add three new clubs — the Indy Eleven, Ottawa Fury and Virginia Calvary, and the league expects to welcome additional clubs in Jacksonville and Oklahoma City the following year. Each of those teams can only hope to accomplish what the revived Cosmos were able to do so swiftly in 2013.
And as the Spring Season starts in 2014, some new t-shirts will have to be handed out on opening night at Hofstra — ones that will now bridge the Cosmos’ supremacy of the past with the continued championship caliber of the present.