By Peter Schwartz
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In the moments after the Cosmos’ 3-0 win over the Indy Eleven on Wednesday night, defender Hunter Freeman brought his two daughters onto the Shuart Stadium field with him and watched as they ran around for a few minutes. It’s a sight that we’ve seen before, but this time there was a little more meaning to it.
That’s because it was the last time it was going to happen for Freeman as a home player at Hofstra University.
“It was great to have my girls run around the field one last time,” said Freeman, who played his final match for the Cosmos after he was sold to Miami FC.
In an unusual situation, Freeman played two final matches for the Cosmos knowing that his time with New York was over. After receiving a lucrative offer from Miami FC, Freeman took some time to think about it and decided that it was the right decision for him and his family to head south.
Freeman helped the Cosmos to a 6-1 win over Carolina on Saturday night and marched onto the field Wednesday for his final appearance in green and white not long after news broke that he was Miami bound.
“The last week has been a little crazy, to say the least,” said Freeman in an exclusive interview with WFAN.com.
Teams very rarely dress a player while a trade is being finalized. In this case, Freeman was scheduled to fly to Miami on Thursday to take a physical to complete the deal. But the circumstances around this transaction allowed Freeman to play not one final match with the Cosmos, but two, as he prepared to join his new team.
“Knowing that I was going to Miami but still playing two games with the Cosmos was a unique thing,” said Freeman, who also played for Major League Soccer’s New York Red Bulls from 2007-08.
On Thursday, Freeman took to social media to thank Cosmos fans, coaches, players and staff for their support.
It was surreal in the time leading up to kickoff Wednesday night. A lot of fans, media and some staff members were unaware of the trade, and that includes me, the team’s public address announcer. About an hour before the match, I was given the starting lineups, and Freeman was listed as a starter for the Cosmos.
A short time later, I checked my phone, and that’s when I saw the reports of the trade. There I am introducing Freeman in the Cosmos’ starting lineup and I’m not sure how many people at the match knew he had been traded.
“(It) was definitely different knowing it would be my last game as a Cosmo,” said Freeman. “I tried to take it all in while still focusing on the game and also not trying to think ahead to my future.”
There is a controversial aspect to this trade in that Miami went directly to Freeman’s agent with an offer before discussing a trade with the Cosmos.
With a team policy of not standing in the way of a player that has an opportunity to go elsewhere, Cosmos head coach and sporting director Giovanni Savarese allowed Freeman to leave, and the team received an undisclosed six-figure transfer fee from Miami.
“Gio and I have a very close relationship,” said Freeman. “We have always been honest with one another from Day 1. Every conversation we had was polite, honest and respectful.”
But here’s the question that was posed to Savarese on Wednesday night: Was it tampering?
“I think the NASL has to be the one that has to answer that question if they think that it was done properly,” said Savarese.
It was a tough spot for Freeman, who was the fourth player that the Cosmos signed prior to their reboot season in 2013. He’s been an integral part of the team, helping the Cosmos to a pair of Soccer Bowl titles in three seasons. The Cosmos are also atop the NASL standings this season.
His time with the Cosmos has been off the charts, and that makes it difficult to leave.
“That’s hard,” said Freeman. “It’s been tremendous to see this club grow from Day 1. It will always hold a special place in my heart, and to have won two championships is something no one can ever take away from me.”
Freeman leaves the first-place Cosmos for Miami FC, which sits in fifth place in the NASL’s fall season with 16 points, 10 behind New York. There’s a lot of work to do in South Florida, but Freeman is looking forward to helping his new team make a push for the playoffs.
“I’m extremely excited about Miami,” said Freeman. “I’m honored they believe in my abilities and have brought me here to contribute.”
Freeman may be leaving Cosmos Country, but it won’t be long before he returns. Miami FC will visit Shuart Stadium on Oct. 22 for his first match against his old team. There will certainly be mixed emotions along with plenty of memories.
“It will be great to see my old teammates and coaches as well as everyone else involved with the club,” said Freeman. “But it will also be a completely new experience to be a visitor at Hofstra.”
Freeman was a star both on and off the field for the Cosmos.
Two years ago, my son Bradley played in a charity little league all-star game that honored the memory of a young boy on Long Island that had passed away because of a cancer. The young man’s first love was soccer, and he had spent some time with the Cosmos at a match the year before. I asked Hunter if he would come to the game and throw out a ceremonial first pitch.
Without hesitation, Freeman accepted the invitation and brought with him an autographed mini-soccer ball that he threw to my son and then presented to the boy’s family.
The Cosmos will miss Freeman’s talents, passion and leadership, but his contributions over the last four seasons will always be cherished. Good luck in Miami, Hunter — just not on Oct. 22!
Don’t forget to follow Peter on Twitter @pschwartzcbsfan.