COSMOS COPA QUALIFYING WEEKEND PREVIEW
By Spencer Dormitzer, Cosmos Copa Executive Director
|Group 1||Group 2||Group 3||Group 4|
|NYC Trinidad & Tobago||Sweden||El Salvador||NYC Italy|
|NYC USA||Croatia||NYC Albania||Portugal|
|Kosovo||St. Vincent & the Grenadines||NYC Liberia||NYC Japan|
NYC TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO: NYC Trinidad and Tobago, playing in their third Cosmos Copa tournament, received a first round bye in a random draw during April's official launch party. In the past two tournaments, NYC T&T have fielded two very different teams. In 2009, they battled with a young, energetic team that ultimately struggled and did not make it out of the group stage. In 2010, NYC T&T went with an older and more experienced squad into the qualifying round, but lost in a very close match to Uruguay.
Trinidad’s inspirational leader is the legendary former T&T international and Premier League goalkeeper, Shaka Hislop. However, a new management team is in place who hope to combine the strengths of the two previous talented squads. NYC T&T have been relatively quiet in the build up to the qualifying weekend, by holding tryouts and training sessions rather than playing in friendly matches with other teams.
It will be interesting to see if this quality team, with its large talent base to choose from in the NYC area, will be able to meet their big expectations.
NYC USA: The United States has an immensely talented team that has played some amazing soccer, but has been hard done by in the past. In 2010, they were caught in “the Group of Death” along with 2010 Champion NYC Poland, 2010 runner-up NYC Jamaica, and 2009 Champion NYC Albania. The soccer was brilliant, but the results did not go their way.
This year, NYC USA have diligently prepared in order to get the most out of the large amount of American talent in New York and build a cohesive unit that will compete to the high standards expected from Team President, Andy “The Tank” Abramowits.
Team USA will be one of the most organized and mentally and physically prepared team in the tournament, as displayed in a heavy win against Team Russia in a recent friendly.
Team USA’s first match on One Shot Saturday will pit them against newcomers Team Holland. NYC USA will have to be favored to advance in this match and is definitely one of the teams to watch during the qualifying weekend.
HOLLAND: Team Holland, in their first Cosmos Copa competition, have a strong reputation in the Metro area in smaller, 5 or 8-sided, tournaments. The jump to a major 11-a-side tournament such as Cosmos Copa could be a challenge. There is a limited but solid array of Dutch ex-pat talent in New York City and the pedigree of Dutch soccer at all levels is indisputable.
Team President, Iwan Vandervinne has been diligent in his preparations to take on the more experienced NYC USA in the first round of qualifying, by setting up many scrimmages and training sessions for his team.
Team Holland’s squad depth will be the main question mark going into their match against NYC USA on One Shot Saturday but in a 90-minute match, anything can happen. It would be a mistake to underestimate this physical and smart soccer team.
Team Kosovo: Team Kosovo are not only becoming one of the great cultural stories of Cosmos Copa, but may be becoming a team to beat as well. Team President, Zef Kabashi, has worked tirelessly to assemble a squad worthy of not only representing their new homeland, but also capable of putting Kosovo soccer on the map.
Team Kosovo has already received major attention from the New York Times soccer blog “Goal” (article can be found here: http://goal.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/06/07/team-kosovo-made-in-new-york/). Their passion to bring a higher awareness to their homeland of Kosovo through soccer is to be commended. Kabashi’s coaching experience and affiliations throughout the NYC soccer landscape may have helped him in finding a team that can compete at this elite amateur level. Team Kosovo definitely has been trying to find their feet through recent friendly matches with some of the best NYC Teams in Cosmos Copa, such as NYC Haiti, El Salvador, Croatia, and Portugal.
Team Kosovo will open up One Shot Saturday against NYC Ghana, a seasoned and very talented opponent that cannot be taken lightly. This match should have some fireworks!
NYC GHANA: This two-year veteran team of Cosmos Copa has had an erratic but promising history in the tournament. They made the Quarterfinals in 2009, and succumbed in the group stage in 2010. In years past, NYC Ghana has shown individual brilliance at times and difficulty to adapt to pressure in others.
2011 will be a defining year for NYC Ghana. This team is under new leadership with Team President and Bronx soccer legend Joe Wasa trying to guide them to greater heights.
Under Wasa, NYC Ghana has taken the route of training in private sessions in preparation for their match against Team Kosovo, so a detailed report is difficult to give. Considering Ghana’s past performances in Cosmos Copa along with the strong tradition of Ghanian soccer in New York City, their match against Team Kosovo will be momentous.
TEAM SWEDEN: This team, competing in its first Cosmos Copa, is largely made up of ex-pat professionals and students and has built a very good reputation in smaller sided tournaments and leagues around New York City. Team Sweden blends a classy, possession style game with some speed along the wings, but don’t make the mistake to think that they are afraid to put a shoulder into a tackle! Team President Andreas Lindberg has been very active in searching out other Cosmos Copa teams to scrimmage and recent results have been respectable.
Team Sweden will face another freshman team in Croatia, and predicting a winner is difficult.
TEAM CROATIA: Tommy Radalj, the President of Team Croatia is very eager to put out a team that represents a side of NYC Soccer history that has gone relatively unnoticed for decades. This tradition of Croatian soccer however is well known among the various club teams in the boroughs. “The Vatreni,” as the Croatins are known, will no doubt have a physical presence and a stubborn defense. The real question to be answered is whether they have made a cohesive unit from the large talent pool of players they have to choose from. Look for the standout combination play of the Bistre brothers to bring some flavor to their match against Team Sweden.
TEAM URUGUAY: This very talented team were a penalty kick away from beating the eventual champion, NYC Poland, in last year’s qualifying round and have spent this past year preparing to redeem that loss.
The Brunengo brothers, Miguel and Adam, are tough and pragmatic in their approach to team selection and tactical play. The Uruguayan community in New York has a plethora of talent to choose from, and the added benefit of the tournament being held in Queens (where many Uruguayans dwell) could also add additional incentive should they proceed from the Qualifying Weekend. Team Uruguay has notched some impressive wins in friendly matches leading up to "One Shot Saturday" and put together a deep squad for this tournament.
They will face a tough first opponent in St. Vincent & the Grenadines. With two varying styles of play pitted against one another, this match could be explosive!
The Morris Brothers, Peter and Desmond, are convinced that “The Vinci Wave” will flow instead of ebb from the opening whistle straight through to the championship match. This team will also hold a bit of a home field advantage on "One Shot Saturday" considering the large Vinci population residing in Brooklyn, where the first leg of Qualifying Weekend will be held. The Morris brothers boasted of over 75 players trying out for the team and SV. & G. have a reputation for tough physical play.
The phrase, “When you get tackled by a Vinci, you will always remember” is famous around Caribbean tournaments. Team Uruguay better have done their homework on this talented team on a mission.
TEAM PARAGUAY: Historically known as one of the most talented soccer communities in NYC, this will be Team Paraguay’s first foray in Cosmos Copa. Many of the players selected for this squad come from one of the toughest leagues in the city, The Paraguayan League, which plays out of Corona Park.
Paraguay is run by its ever-smiling team president, Bernardo Armadillo. Armadillo has kept very quiet on their selection process and training sessions leading up to the Qualifying Weekend, like a poker player holding his cards tight to the table. With Corona Park being the home of the Cosmos Copa Tournament this year, thousands of fans are ready to support Paraguay if they advance, so hopefully Mr. Armadillo is holding a strait flush rather than bluffing.
Their first match is against an experienced Ivory Coast team. This match could prove to be a one of the gems of One Shot Saturday for sure.
TEAM IVORY COAST: This squad, assembled by former NFL and Virginia American Football star Amos Zereoue, came very close to advancing to the Cosmos Copa Tournament in 2010, losing to a plucky NYC Ecuador team in the final round of qualifying.
This team is very strong, with many standout players whose individual talent can carry a match. Depth may be an issue for Team Ivory Coast, but unity and solidarity will not be questioned. It is unknown to Cosmos Copa how much this team has trained together since last year, as some teams like to keep a low profile before match play. But we can assume that Team Ivory Coast will not underestimate the forecast of a Paraguayan storm that is expected on One Shot Saturday.
TEAM EL SALVADOR: Team El Salvador is another first-year squad that are trying their luck at competing for NYC glory in Cosmos Copa this year. This community team, based mainly out of Long Island, received attention when they started beating many of the more established club sides in and around New York in smaller tournaments. Team El Salvador have taken on many of the Cosmos Copa giants in friendly matches and the scouting reports have all been very positive, with the team boasting a direct style with quick wing play.
The management team of El Salvador has been nothing short of fantastic to work with and they relish the prospect of advancing further in Cosmos Copa in the name of their homeland. However, they have been drawn against one of the giants of Cosmos Copa, NYC Albania, who have an axe to grind from their performance in Cosmos Copa 2010. This match will be very interesting to watch and could bring some unexpected drama.
Since the inception of Cosmos Copa, NYC Albania has exemplified themselves on and off the pitch. In 2009, they beat a very talented and unified team in NYC Ireland in the Cosmos Copa final. In 2010, they were drawn in the dreaded “group of death” with eventual Champion NYC Poland, runners up NYC Jamaica and a very solid NYC USA squad. The massive heat and the older age of the team that year left them winless and goal-less in the group.
This year, Team President Oliver Papraniku has worked tirelessly to fix the problems from last year’s difficulties. His team, still led by NYC soccer legend and 2009 Golden Boot award winner Rigels Qosa, has found a blend of youth and experience that could prove to be the elixir for future success. NYC Albania have also decided to play together on a year-round basis, advancing very far in some major regional and national amateur tournaments - so solidarity and team unity will not be an issue.
The first match with Team El Salvador for NYC Albania is crucial. If NYC Albania takes them lightly, thinking about bigger dreams, then those dreams could be crushed in just 90 minutes!
NYC FRANCE: This very classy, but tempestuous team has a great history in Cosmos Copa. In 2009, NYC Albania narrowly beat them in what many consider one of the matches of the tournament. The 2010 Tournament proved difficult for NYC France, as the heat and depth of their squad may have hindered their obvious talent. They just missed getting out of the group stage by one point, leaving a very good team wanting for more.
Team President Frederick Lesort and captain Zohair Ghenania have vowed to get back to the Cosmos Copa Tournament with the class and savvy their team is famous for. Their playing style, reminiscent of the French National Team circa 1998, is based on possession, quick passing and sexy build -up play, but they will get physical if needed.
NYC France has competed in some scrimmages leading up to the Qualifying Weekend and the reports are glowing. Their first match against a hungry NYC Liberia team will not disappoint and we will see if Lesort’s recruiting efforts and Ghenania’s tactics will prevail.
NYC LIBERIA: This community team seems to play with a little more on their shoulders than other teams in Cosmos Copa. Led by Team President Rufus Arkoi and their captain, the ex-Liberia international Eddie Kingston, NYC Liberia play for their national flag as if their whole country is watching. This passion can sometimes put pressure on the team, as witnessed in last year’s loss at the feet of NYC Ecuador in the Qualifying round as Arkoi’s squad seemingly snatched defeat from jaws of victory.
This year, NYC Liberia look as if they have changed their course and have bound together once again for Liberian glory and to create a higher profile for the amazingly talented Liberian soccer players, many of whom came to Staten Island and New Jersey as war refugees.
This first match against NYC France has added importance for them. If they win, they proceed to Playoff Sunday, taking place in what could act as their home field, College of Staten Island, where a strong following is expected to come out to support them.
TEAM SENEGAL: A very motivated gentleman leads this squad by the name of Sadibou Sylla, who does a tremendous amount of work for youth and amateur soccer in NYC as well as his homeland in Senegal. Team Senegal made an appearance in Cosmos Copa’s Qualifying Round in 2010, losing in penalties to Ivory Coast. The result could have gone either way and was by far one of the best Qualifying matches of last year!
Team Senegal has a very smooth, almost elegant style of play, where the ball moves effortlessly around the pitch. Sylla has developed a team that is tall and durable to go with their other silky skills, but there were defensive miscues last year that have hopefully been addressed.
Cosmos Copa was notified of a friendly match or two taking place involving Team Senegal, but reports were inconclusive. Their first match will be against newcomers Team Russia. This match is highly anticipated to be a barnburner and the winner could be a dark horse in the tournament!
TEAM RUSSIA: Another community with a long tradition of excellent soccer in New York City, Team Russia looks to make their mark in Cosmos Copa as they have throughout the many leagues around the city. With a very large talent pool to choose from, this squad must have seen several talented players in tryouts, making their decision on a final roster very difficult.
Team Russia’s activities has been relatively quiet coming into the Qualifying Weekend, with mixed reports from friendly matches. We do know that they will bring an aggressive, physical style to the pitch and will not quit until the final whistle blows. Is there a gem similar to Arsenal’s Arshavin in the roster of Team Russia? We will have to wait and see!
NYC ITALY: This historic New York City soccer community has a huge reputation, locally and internationally, to uphold as they battle in their second year in Cosmos Copa. In last year’s tournament, NYC Italy flattered to deceive, showing glimpses of brilliance, clever tactics and a very physical presence throughout the group stage. They were drawn into a very difficult group, with seasoned teams NYC England, NYC Greece, and NYC Brazil, but they held their own, almost making it to the Quarterfinals.
This year, NYC Italy might have worked the hardest of any team to improve and compete to get to the next level. Team Presidents Francesco Bardazzi and Fabrizio Carrer have worked tirelessly to find the best of the vast Italian talent in the greater New York area and have a first-rate coaching staff in place to keep the squad motivated and focused. We have even been told that such national legends as Francisco Totti and Paolo Maldini have shown their support to NYC Italy as well!
Rumor has it that NYC Italy has developed a great roster for this year’s tournament and are quietly confident of success. Reports from several friendly matches seem to prove these rumors may be worth believing. In another act of luck (or fate if you are a NYC Italy supporter), the team received a randomly drawn bye straight into the second round of the Qualifying Weekend. This will increase their chances immensely to advance into the tournament. Since they will only have two one hour matches to get through, NYC Italy will definitely be a team to watch!
TEAM PORTUGAL: Team Portugal, new to Cosmos Copa, has a reputation as a soccer giant in the Greater New York area. They have been working hard to get a quality team to gel together to compete against the best of the best in Cosmos Copa. Team Portugal has massive support from their large local Portuguese community and has a good following on social media as well. Reports from various friendly matches that they have participated in show promise and talent that should not be underestimated - if underestimating anything with the words “Portuguese” and “soccer” was a good idea in the first place!
The question now will be if Team Portugal has assembled a squad in such a short time, that is united enough to meet these high expectations. Their first match will be against another freshman team in Peru. The Team President of Portugal, Marco DaFonte has many ties in NYC soccer and will no doubt bring a strong game plan to this battle. Focus and balance - with the sheer will to win will be the key to this match.
TEAM PERU: Peru is a young and up-and-coming team, led by President Bruno Barrios and Secretary Bethany Ocansey, which have set their sights on building a team that will stick around for many years to come. The Peruvian community may not be as big as other Hispanic populations in New York, but their passion for soccer cannot be debated. Barrios and Ocansey may have done more work to develop this team from scratch than any other new team in Cosmos Copa! They have also been the busiest team in regards to friendly matches with other teams. Reports have been varied, but very promising.
As for their first match against Team Portugal, Peru will have to overcome the massive pressure placed on their shoulders. The passion, the pride and the talent is there - soon we will see if the results will follow.
NYC JAPAN: In Cosmos Copa 2010, NYC Japan self-admittedly struggled against their opponents and may not have prepared well enough for such a tough competition. Cosmos Copa can say with confidence that preparation will not be an issue this year. Team president Kenichi Yatsuhashi (NYC Japan’s former goalkeeper) has taken over management of NYC Japan and has become a one-man army. “Kenni” believes he has developed a squad that can compete at the highest level of Cosmos Copa and has gotten letters of support from former Japanese national team coaches and players to encourage his squad. NYC Japan have been training or playing friendly matches week-in and week-out and they have bonded like a family. Reports have been encouraging for this team and should have some standout players to keep your eye on.
NYC Japan has a strong media following too! Film crews and reporters from various Japanese print and TV outlets will be at their first qualifying match against NYC Colombia to cover the event!
NYC Japan drew a very difficult opponent in NYC Colombia, but if Kenni’s army can shine in the lights and cameras and play the best 90 minutes of their life, glory could be in their sights.
NYC COLOMBIA: If there is any team to fear in the Cosmos Copa Qualifying Weekend, NYC Colombia would definitely be at the top of the list. This community has a potent mixture of great talent, passion for soccer, a massive talent base and unbridled support from their fans. These incentives, blended with the ambition to play in Corona Park (where thousands of Colombians live, work and play) and battle against traditional rivals such as NYC Ecuador, NYC Mexico, Team Paraguay and Team Uruguay will be the main motivatations for this Colombia side. Team president Guillermo Lillo, a legendary referee and manager, has been putting together a team that is looking to meet every expectation demanded of them. The leader and motivator of this gifted team is Colombian National team legend and 98 World Cup midfielder Andrés Estrada.
Reports from several friendly matches have been remarkable. NYC Colombia has shown a devastating blend of youth and experience combined with an awareness of where their teammates are akin to “the force”.
NYC Colombia should take no team lightly. We have learned from years past that humility is an important trait for a successful Copa team. Nonetheless, this team should be considered a favorite and the match against NYC Japan should not be missed.