By Peter Schwartz
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Next season, soccer will have what the four major sports already enjoy — and that’s a local rivalry in the Tri-State area when New York City FC joins the Red Bulls in Major League Soccer.
But, in a couple of weeks, fans will get a taste of what that rivalry might look like.
On Saturday, June 14, at Hofstra University’s Shuart Stadium, the Cosmos of the second-division NASL will host the Red Bulls at 8:15 p.m. in the fourth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, a tournament that includes teams from all levels of America’s soccer pyramid. It was a matchup that everyone was hoping for, and the Cosmos made the contest a reality with their 2-0 third round win over the Brooklyn Italians last week.
“I think it’ll be exciting,” said Cosmos defender and captain Carlos Mendes, a former player for the Red Bulls franchise when they were the MetroStars. “Obviously they’re a very good team and it’ll be a good challenge for us. I think it’s great for the New York-New Jersey area to have the rivalry, and have two good teams playing against each other.”
After a 29 year hiatus, the Cosmos returned to competitive soccer last season and won the NASL Soccer Bowl for the sixth time in franchise history. Meanwhile, the Red Bulls had the most successful season in team history in 2013 when they won the Supporters Shield, symbolic of the MLS regular-season title.
In theory, comparing this matchup to another sport like baseball would kind of be like the Yankees playing their Triple-A team in Scranton. But, the Cosmos are out to prove that they have assembled a club that can beat an MLS team.
“We’re excited to be playing the Red Bulls,” said Cosmos COO Erik Stover. “This is a game our fans have been looking forward to and I think it’ll be a big moment in New York soccer history.”
At stake is a chance for one of these teams to move on in a tournament, believe it or not, that has been around since 1914. The Cup champion will earn a berth in the 2015-16 CONCACAF Champions’ League.
The game is also an opportunity for the local clubs to help create some buzz.
“It’s about growing the sport of soccer in this area,” said Cosmos head coach Giovanni Savarese, also a former MetroStar player. “I think it’s these kinds of games that will help the sport grow.”
The atmosphere for this match should be incredible. Shuart Stadium, the Cosmos’ home venue, seats 11,929, a number that the Cosmos hit last August for their first match in almost 30 years. So with the dueling fan bases gobbling up the tickets, a sellout crowd is expected.
The venue is no stranger to a full house for soccer. In 1997, the MetroStars lost 2-1 in a friendly against their A-League affiliate the Long Island Rough Riders in front of 11,658 customers.
Since it’s a Cosmos home game, they will handle the ticket sales.
Tickets will go on sale to the general public at 2 p.m. ET on Tuesday, June 3. They can be purchased by logging on to www.nycosmos.com/tickets or by calling 855-71-COSMOS.
As for the match itself, the Red Bulls know exactly what they will be up against.
“Yeah, I know about the Cosmos,” said Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke. “They’re close, I’ve seen them play a bunch of times. I know Giovanni. I know some of the players on the team. We scouted the game the other night, obviously, and, yeah, I know as much as I should know about them.”
Over the next couple of weeks, local soccer fans will learn all about the term “derby,” which is a soccer term for a local rivalry. There’s no question that the Red Bulls will have a derby (pronounced darby) with NYCFC starting next season, but is it possible for them to have one, at least for one night, against a club that plays in a lower division?
The opponent seems to think so.
“When two teams from the same city and same location play against each other, you call it the way you want to call it,” said Savarese. “But in the end, its two teams that are going to be able to compete.”
The Red Bulls have a lot of soccer coming up on their plate. In addition to their quest for a Major League Soccer title and their participation in the U.S. Open Cup, they will also be playing in the CONCACAF Champions League.
But make no mistake about it — the Red Bulls are out to show that they are the top dog in town.
“It’s a great opportunity for us,” said Petke. “ As far as who the opponent is, obviously I guess because they’re close by in proximity, it makes up an interesting story. However, at the end of the day, we’re going to take the same approach we would if we were playing any other team in any other league. We want to win the game.”
And so do the Cosmos.
They are trying to carve out their own niche in the area soccer community. A franchise that enjoyed the glory years of the ’70s and ’80s with the likes of Pele, Giorgio Chinaglia, Franz Beckenbauer and Shep Messing, the Cosmos are out to make some noise again.
Amid rumors that they might be signing international star Raul this summer, the Cosmos are also waiting patiently on a decision from New York State on their proposal to build a 25,000 seat soccer-specific stadium next to Belmont Park.
On the field, beating the Red Bulls will show that the Cosmos are a quality team.
The game itself should serve as a huge boost for soccer in the Tri-State area.
“I think New York deserves this,” said Savarese. “It’s a place that loves soccer, it’s very diverse and hopefully we’ll have a good match-up in the next round.”
June 14 should be a night to remember for local soccer fans. Almost 12,000 are expected to pack into Shuart Stadium on the campus of Hofstra University. They will see a Red Bulls team that many expect to win against a Cosmos team that is hungry to replicate their past glory.
It should be quite an evening!
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