By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Aug 5, 2013) US Soccer Players – This country seems to be loaded with so-called “soccer cities.” The fruited plan now has Kansas City, Seattle and Portland all claiming, in one form or another, that they are this nation’s soccer epicenter. Don’t get me wrong. These cities are all great centers of the global game, featuring pro teams and rabid fan bases that resemble the stuff you see in the stands in Europe or South America.
That’s all fine. But New York City, this country’s largest urban center and the capital of the world, also remains this country’s premier “Soccer City.” It always has been. Every country on the planet is part of the Big Apple. This past weekend was a clear representation of why New York – and its metropolitan area – remains the best place to hold soccer games.
On Saturday night, the New York Cosmos played its first competitive match in nearly 29 years before 12,000 fans on Long Island. The following day brought a salivating doubleheader at MetLife Stadium, featuring Valencia versus Inter Milan and AC Milan against Chelsea. Three games in two days was something I couldn’t miss.
The expression “You had to be there” comes to mind when talking about this past weekend. I decided to take in these three games – and report back what I saw, felt and heard. What I saw, felt and heard convinced me, more than ever, that the United States is a “soccer country” … and that New York is truly its capitol.
Let’s start with the return of the New York Cosmos. I left my apartment in Brooklyn for an evening of time travel. Well, not really but it sure did feel that way. Instead of hoping into a DeLorean with Doc Brown headed to New Jersey circa 1977, I got into a friend’s Toyota Camry headed for Hempstead to see the new New York Cosmos take on the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. The NASL, this country’s second division if you will, is doing everything it can to be anything but second tier to Major League Soccer. As for the Cosmos, twice in a lifetime? We’ll see about that.
For now, I enjoyed the sights and sounds of Hofstra University’s Shuart Stadium, an ideal place for a college football game but not the best for soccer. Making things great was the crowd. For as cheap as $15 a ticket, a sellout crowd of 12,000 showed up to cheer and chant for a team that hasn’t played in nearly 30 years? Wow! I was impressed.
Fans had gathered in the parking lot hours before the game, melding traditions from America and Europe. For every scarf and ball, there was a grill with hamburgers and hotdogs as fans tailgated in the lot, sharing stories about Pele and those magical summers of the late 1970s. For those too young or not born yet, YouTube highlights of Pele must of suddenly felt recreated when the Brazilian legend, wearing a black blazer with a Cosmos patch on it, walked on the field in an ultimate tribute to that star-studded squad of yore.
As for the game itself, it was one for the history books. Tied 1-1, the Cosmos won it in stoppage time following a goal by Alessandro Noselli. The crowd went wild and the fairytale ending (or is that beginning?) to the Cosmos’ first game was complete. Shep Messing, a member of the original Cosmos (and a New Yorker), said despite not being in MLS, the team can go far.
“My belief from supporting the team and watching the team, I don’t think there’s a need for an unrealistic expectation,” he said. “The New York Cosmos aspire to be atop the pyramid of the United States. There are many different routes to get there; a great one would be to win the US Open Cup. I’d be cautious about unrealistic expectations to win the US Open Cup. It’s not going to happen instantly, but I have confidence that we will get there.”
Not to be outdone, the New York Red Bulls were in Kansas City making sure they could get a result. They didn’t disappoint. While the Cosmos were taking on Fort Lauderdale, the Red Bulls moved into first place in the Eastern Conference with a 3-2 win over Sporting KC. Lloyd Sam’s goal in the 69th minute turned out to be the game-winner, but alas, I suspect even Red Bull fans may have been on Long Island to see the Cosmos rather than at home to watch the other New York team on TV.
The following day was for everyone. By that, I mean soccer fans from the New York-area of every stripe. Not necessary MLS (or NASL) fans, but those who love to watch club teams from Italy, Spain and England and get the chance every summer to see them in the flesh on this side of the Atlantic.
MetLife Stadium, where the Cosmos home Giants Stadium used to stand, hosted Inter Milan-Valencia, followed by AC Milan-Chelsea. In the end, Italian fans went home disappointed in what were only preseason friendlies but what sponsors Guinness have dubbed the International Champions Cup. Valencia routed Inter Milan 4-0, while Chelsea blanked AC Milan 2-0. Despite the slogan, “No Friendlies. Just Football,” these games did feel like friendlies. However, the crowd of 39,764 was into it, particularly Chelsea fans that were the loudest ones in the (mostly empty) building.
That takes me to my next point. The crowd wasn’t as large as games of this caliber had attracted in the past. It’s no surprise. Even American fans – and New Yorkers in particular – know that there’s soccer on the schedule here each week. With the Big Apple now home to two teams (and a third in a few years’ time), there won’t be any need to import European clubs to play here.
I enjoyed my three games in two days. It’s great to see New York with more teams. Once again, New York can lay claim to being this country’s soccer center – no matter if one of the teams plays in the second division or another has never won a championship.
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