A capacity crowd of 11,929 fans crammed into Hofstra University’s Shuart Stadium to welcome back the New York Cosmos, playing their first official match in 29 years. The new Cosmos responded with a dramatic 2-1 win over old foes Fort Lauderdale Strikers, getting an added time goal from Italian striker Alessandro Noselli to win it.
Pele was there, along with fellow Brazilian and Cosmos legend Carlos Alberto. Giorgio Chinaglia was represented by his family and Shep Messing, the Long Island boy who played in goal with those legends, was there too.
Once the legends were honored, the new group of players went about the tricky business of trying to live up to that legend, almost three decades in the making. That is no small task, and of course it is an entirely unfair one.
But day one of the Cosmos reboot went off without a hitch.These new Cosmos are playing in the new NASL, the reboot of the league Pele and company played in. The new NASL is now the second tier of professional soccer in the United States and both teams rosters are stocked with an assortment of players who haven’t quite stuck in Major League Soccer, along with a well traveled international group.
The prize signing for the Cosmos is Marcos Senna, over from Villarreal with a wealth of La Liga experience. The Brazilian born Senna played for Spain and was an important player on the 2008 Euro Champions, the group that started it all for the Spain dynasty. Senna is the one player on Cosmos 2.0 that could have hung with the Cosmos back in the day. Sure he is 36 years old, but then Pele was no kid when he showed up in Randall’s Island in 1975.
Senna looked like he had plenty left in the tank last night, spraying passes to teammates all over the field. He may have been wondering about the wisdom of his move to the U.S. in the 19th minute when he was thrown to ground, only to have the referee look at him and tell him to get up.
But the veteran was unruffled and brought the crowd to their feet with a perfectly struck volley just two minutes after that non-call. Senna got on the end of a partially cleared corner kick only to be denied by Strikers keeper Richard Sanchez. Sanchez is on loan from FC Dallas and the Mexican U20 international is a quality keeper.
Walter Restrepo was the the Strikers best player on the night, an attacking midfielder who embodies what the NASL is all about. A 25 year old from San Diego, Restrepo has represented Colombia at the U17 level. He played in his parents country in both the Colombian top flight and its second division, before coming to Fort Lauderdale in 2011. A tryout with the Chicago Fire didn’t pan out, but Restrepo has talent and
he is still at it.
With the boisterous home crowd behind them, the Cosmos dominated the first half, controlling the ball for long stretches. Senna was pulling the strings, Joseph Nane was a rock in central midfield and Diomar Diaz and Peri Marosevic were buzzing up front.
But for all the home team’s dominance, the score remained 0-0 with the half approaching. Finally, in the 44th minute the breakthrough came. From a corner kick the ball came to Carlos Mendes, born and raised just down the road in Mineola. Mendes headed the ball goalward and Marosevic got a boot to it for the first goal in the history of the the new Cosmos.
The pressure and the emotions of playing their first game as the iconic Cosmos had to be a lot to handle and the Cosmos looked fatigued on the re-start. The Strikers had the better of second half play, equalizing through Restrepo in the 77th minute.
It looked like a 1-1 tie was in the offing until Cosmos substitute Noselli pounced on a terrible back pass for the added time winner.
Afterwards, Pele slipped out, upsetting the waiting press core, and leaving Messing and Alberto to deputize. Both were happy to do so, with the great Alberto particularly charming and passionate about the Cosmos future.
Alberto answered questions, in Portuguese, in English, in Spanish. He translated for the translator, and he seemed willing to stay all night to talk about the Cosmos.
Through a translator Alberto said, “I believe that in two years the Cosmos are going to have an amazing, great team. If not the way it was before, it’s still going to be at very high level.”
Messing stressed caution. “Before Carlos came and built the great Cosmos teams, I played in this stadium, and the Cosmos becoming one of the most famous teams in the world didn’t happen overnight.” “Tonight is the first step,” Messing stressed, “and we’re very happy about it,” the former goalkeeper said.
Now the Cosmos have to take the next steps and where those steps take them is anyone’s guess. Plans for a 20,000 plus stadium near Belmont Park have been circulated, but with the path to MLS blocked by New York City FC, terrible name by the way, where do these Cosmos go?
Management says they don’t want to play in MLS anyway, but they seem too ambitious for a second tier club. So the Cosmos are back, now the question is: where are they going?