By Peter Schwartz
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Last year was just like old times. That is if you were like me back in the ’70s and ’80s spending plenty of time at Giants Stadium, uhhh, make that Cosmos Country!
It took almost 30 years for those good old times to return, but the New York Cosmos returned to the pitch in the new North American Soccer League and won their sixth Soccer Bowl title in 2013.
After the Cosmos’ glory years that featured Pele, Giorgiio Chinaglia, Franz Beckenbauer, and Carlos Alberto, the world-renowned franchise and the entire NASL folded. The league was reincarnated in 2011 as a second-division tier in U.S. Soccer and then two years later the Cosmos reboot was underway.
They were back in business — the business of winning championships.
“When I think of last season, this is the miracle of New York,” said former Cosmos goalkeeper Shep Messing, a member of the 1977 championship team. “It’s just unbelievable to me that a team, after so many years, came back, started with a front office, hired a coach, got players, and went on to win the championship.”
And now the Cosmos are aiming for a repeat. They’ll open up their 2014 season this Sunday at Hofstra University when they host the Atlanta Silverbacks at 5 p.m. in a rematch of last year’s Soccer Bowl.
The legendary Pele will be on hand and will take part in the championship trophy presentation with NASL commissioner Bill Peterson before the game.
“It’s always a great feeling to lift the trophy in front of your own fans,” said Cosmos defender Hunter Freeman. “It’s always a pleasure to be around Pele any second you can get.”
It will be a busy weekend for Pele on Long Island. On Friday, he will receive an honorary degree from Hofstra University during a youth symposium as part of the Hofstra Soccer Conference. Then on Sunday, the conference comes to an end when a special Pele plaque is unveiled at Shuart Stadium prior to the Cosmos game.
After all the pomp and circumstance, the Cosmos will begin their title defense.
“At the end of the day, Sunday is a new start to a new season,” said Freeman. “What happened last year is in the past and now we have to focus on achieving our goals for this upcoming season.”
With most of the players from last year’s championship team returning, as well as some key additions, the Cosmos feel that they are even stronger than they were in 2013.
“We’re excited to do it all over again,” said Chief Operating Officer Erik Stover. “What we did last year I think was remarkable and we’ve gotten better on the field. We kept the guys that we needed to keep and we’ve brought in guys that are going to help us.”
In addition to looking for back to back NASL titles, something they did in 1977 and 1978, the Cosmos are also looking for some additional hardware. For the first time, the Cosmos will compete in the U.S. Open Cup, the oldest soccer tournament in the United States. The Cosmos will compete against clubs from all levels of U.S. Soccer, including MLS.
To compete against all levels of opponents, head coach Giovanni Savarese is blessed with another loaded roster in 2014.
“I’m very excited to start our season,” said Savarese. “I’m feeling confident with our team this year. We feel that we are stronger.”
A huge offseason move for the Cosmos was the re-signing of former Spanish national team star Marcos Senna, who led the team with six goals last season including the only goal in the Cosmos’ 1-0 win over Atlanta in the Soccer Bowl.
Senna is happy to be back.
“I’ve had an incredible experience in New York so far,” he said. “Right now, my body feels great and I want to keep playing for as long as possible.”
Among the other key returning players are defenders Ayoze and Roversio, midfielder Danny Szetela, forwards Peri Marosevic and Alessandro Noselli as well as team captain Carlos Mendes.
“We’ve been working hard since the championship game last year,” Mendes told NYCosmos.com. “We’ve been preparing for this so we’re excited and hopefully the fans enjoy it. We can’t wait to get out there.”
Some key newcomers include forwards Mads Stokkellien and Hans Denissen, defender Jimmy Okford and new backup goalkeeper Kyle Zobeck. Jimmy Maurer is expected to move into the starting role after NASL goalkeeper of the year Kyle Reynish left for the Chicago Fire of Major League Soccer.
As the Cosmos try to repeat as NASL champions, they’ll also have an eye on their long-term future. Right now, the Cosmos’ home is 11,929-seat Shuart Stadium at Hofstra University. But the franchise has proposed to transform two sections of Belmont Park into “Elmont Town Crossings,” a privately funded entertainment, retail, hotel, office and open-space complex that would include a 25,000-seat stadium.
“Any team in any sport, if they are going to be financially successful on the pitch, in the front office, commercially, needs their own stadium,” said Stover. “It will be a huge step forward for us putting the Cosmos back at the top.”
The Cosmos submitted their proposal in January of 2013 and they are currently awaiting a decision from the State of New York.
There are multiple proposals for the land and there could reportedly be a winner chosen soon.
With New York City FC joining the New York Red Bulls in MLS next year, the Cosmos appear to be stuck in the second-division NASL, but that’s not stopping them from trying to be a world-class franchise. A new stadium, like the one that they are proposing, could make them just as attractive to an international star as any MLS club.
But, for now, the Cosmos are just trying to field the best possible team as they continue to restore the franchise to where it was over 30 years ago. The name of the player is not important. What matters is how he fits into a team whose mission statement is to win championships.
“We’re trying to build something special,” Savarese said.
The Cosmos were more than something special in the late ’70s and early ’80s. They were a phenomenon. Today, with a sixth Soccer Bowl title in their reboot season, they are primed to make history again.
“Being a part of the reboot is something not many people get the chance to do,” Freeman said. “To win in the club’s first year back is something that I personally will never forget.”
And now the Cosmos look to repeat and capture a seventh NASL Soccer Bowl. The pieces are certainly in place for them to make another run.
The well-titled movie “Once in a Lifetime” chronicled the original Cosmos and their fall from grace.
Someday, there just might have to be a sequel — “Twice in a Lifetime.”
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