COPA FINAL PREVIEW: NYC FRANCE
By Andrew Haubner (Photo courtesy of Marc Cuénot)
The 2014 edition of Cosmos Copa, New York City's premier community soccer tournament, comes to an end this Saturday at Hofstra's Shuart Stadium. NYC France, 2013 champions, will face NYC Gambia in the championship match. Get your tickets here.
The FIFA World Cup may have ended a few weeks ago, but residents of New York City are still gearing up for the final of another cup of nations: Cosmos Copa.
The Copa, for those unfamiliar with the tournament, is structured like the World Cup but played by residents of the New York metropolitan area. From Japan to Colombia, players from all walks of life have the opportunity to wear the colors of their country and compete for the cup.
The Copa final will be held in James M. Shuart Stadium at Hofstra University, prior to the New York Cosmos home match against the Carolina RailHawks on August 2. It features two heavyweight teams that are perennial contenders.
On one side of the ring is NYC France, the reigning Copa champions. The French are run by team president Frederick Lesort, who had the unique challenge of building a team after last year’s championship run and making sure the team didn’t have what many call, “the championship hangover”.
“It was a new approach,” said Lesort in an interview. “We knew that we would be the tagged team for this tournament. The question was, ‘How do we motivate our players again and come back as hungry as last year?’”
The French lost some players that were integral last year, but have maintained a high level of play. Lesort and coach Zohair Ghenania recruited players from the U.S. and France. While they are all New Yorkers, some have come from French soccer backgrounds (playing at a “good level in France”, according to Lesort), while others have developed and played in the U.S. college system. The combination of players has made for a talented core and a young team; the average age of NYC France is only 26.
Adding new faces to the team helped give the impression that this was a new year for NYC France, but captain Julien Weisbecker also believes that being a team off the pitch was an important factor.
“What we wanted to keep going was the spirit in the team,” Weisbecker explained. “Part of last year was not only the talent we had, but also living together - enjoying the moments outside of the pitch - and I think that’s what we wanted to recreate this year.”
Coming into the tournament, NYC France had three goals, according to Weisbecker: to be competitive, to be serious about the tournament and to move forward. The work that the team put in was substantial, meeting and practicing two to three times a week and getting together for a ‘nine a side’ league every Monday. The players ate and went out together, further building camaraderie and chemistry that showed on the pitch.
The team has even been graced with top-flight players. Last year, Olympique de Marseille defender Rod Fanni and former Lazio midfielder Ousmane Dabo played for Les Bleus dans New York. Such opportunities only build this team up to the community that it has become.
After their semifinal victory over NYC Ireland on Sunday, Lesort emphasized how enjoyable this event has been for him and his players the past few years, and what the team has become.
“We’ve created a really great group of friends, who are normally friends before and during the year,” Lesort said. “I organized a big dinner the night before, so it’s wonderful to get everyone together. A little wine, food, a good laugh, and focusing on the next day.”
This tournament hasn’t just been an opportunity to have a trophy on the wall for the French. It presents an opportunity to represent their country while living in the Big Apple.
“We are here to represent our country, here to represent the French community that we’re a part of,” said Weisbecker. “I think that’s one of the things we enjoy about the tournament - being able to represent France and to show New York that we are competitive, playing well, and that there’s a good spirit on the field.”
France’s talent, tactics, and chemistry have gotten them through to a second straight final, but on the other side stand NYC Gambia, ready and waiting.