THE TOP TEN MOMENTS OF COSMOS COPA 2011
The Cosmos Copa 2011 City Championship, in its 3rd and arguably most impressive year, has seen a sea change from our meager beginnings on the familiar fields in Flushing Meadows in 2009.
In 2010, our tournament brought the news (along with a certain man with the first name of Edson) of the Re-Birth of The New York Cosmos. Our illustrious Chairman, Paul Kemsley, saw Cosmos Copa (then known as Copa NYC) as a vital piece of a major grass roots initiative for the legendary club and in his wisdom, he acquired the tournament “full stop”.
From that day forward, Cosmos Copa has consumed the lives of hundreds of elite NYC soccer players who’ve dreamed of kissing the crest of their national team and pay homage to the city they live in and love, while capturing a worldwide audience via the Internet.
On April 22nd of 2011, Cosmos Copa held the official launch party, hosted at the illustrious Polish Consulate in midtown Manhattan with master of ceremonies, ESPN legend Tommy Smyth.
On the sweltering summer day of July 24th, NYC Poland raised the Cosmos Cup for the 2nd year in a row. Though the Champion remains the same, the journey was remarkably different.
Here are just some of the special moments of Cosmos Copa 2011 that electrified the NYC Soccer landscape like no summer before.
#10- St. VINCENT & the GRENADINES vs. URUGUAY: One Shot Saturday, Parade Grounds Brooklyn, June 18,
It was very apparent early on that Cosmos Copa 2011 was going to be a barnburner when this match kicked off. Both teams played total soccer in the exact style of their homeland, the difference being neither team worried about a bothersome tactical approach. What surfaced was a potent blend of technique, passion, and intent. Imagine Leonard/Hearns, or Hagler/Duran, now imagine if it was the beautiful game… It would be Vincy Wave/La Celeste. When the dust settled, S.V.& G barley knocked out Uruguay in penalties. The Vincy’s missed out on further glory when they were ousted from the tournament the next day, which ironically rendered this match virtually irrelevant. For the fortunate hundreds who were present for this classic Brooklyn battle witnessed one of the greatest matches NYC amateur soccer could hope for.
#9-COSMOS COPA INTERNS AND VOLUNTEERS
It goes without saying that Cosmos Copa’s capable staff were top notch throughout the arduous tournament process. We would like to focus our endless gratitude to the dazzling array of interns and volunteers who sacrificed their time and talents, only to be a part of all that is good for soccer in NYC! Whether it was Social Media, Field Generals, Physical Therapy, Documentarians or ball boys, these amazing folks went above and beyond every level of greatness and delivered more than they received. There are far too many to thank in this short aplomb, but we will find a way to acknowledge and repay these wonderful people, we assure you!
#8- FRS and ALL OUR SPONSORS!
We are indebted to all the great sponsors who came out and supported Cosmos Copa 2011, each brought a unique gift to the to the fans and players of this year’s tournament. We would like to send sonic thanks to the energy drink FRS, (short for Free Radical Scavenger) who provided Cosmos Copa players and fans with copious amounts of their healthy beverages as if it were an elixir to an unknown illness. The great people at FRS doled out thousands of cans with vigor and positivity worthy of their product. Our staff, players and fans all had the benefit of being extremely alert and present for every second of this amazing event due to their extraordinary potions.
#7- The NYC KOSOVO STORY
The world of soccer, much like the world itself, is a crazy place. Logic and perception inevitably are blinded by other, more passionate endeavors. When Cosmos Copa 1st received the application for a potential community team to participate as KOSOVO, it forced many of the staff to not only do their soccer homework, but international civics as well. This very young country gained its independence in 2010 and Cosmos Copa decided to take the bold decision to recognize this NYC community worthy to compete as a “national team”. This decision sparked 2 articles in the New York Times “Goal” blog, which brought widespread awareness to team president Zef Kabashi’s community and homeland’s identity. Kabashi worked tirelessly to find a quality roster of players that could make a statement. As a testament to the resilience of their culture, NYC Kosovo beat 3 battle-tested teams to make the Cosmos Copa tournament, only to bow out on the final match in the group stage. Cosmos Copa NYC is proud to have this fantastic team represent their flourishing community and new country on our grand arena. We hope our decision leads to a larger, more international verdict as well.
#6- PHOTOGRAPHY by MARC LECUREUIL
In 2010, Cosmos Copa was given a gift that may never be repaid - we found a visionary. Though we have received thousands of amazing photographs and video from countless artisans throughout our short history, French photographer Marc Lecureuil, found a shining diamond among the urban soccer rough. Mr. Lecureuil has an extensive and impressive portfolio, with Puma, Pepsi and Le Coq Sportif among his clients. When he showed an interest and more importantly, a passion to document Cosmos Copa, we welcomed him with open arms. What surfaced from this relationship was a true portrait of the American urban soccer player, which has never been so acutely defined before “French Marc”. When Marc’s photos emerged, a new vision of the American soccer player was born.
Reminiscent of the hip-hop movement of the 1970-80’s or Weegee’s photographs of NYC in the 30’s-40’s, Lecureuil revealed a vibrant, lovely and if we can say, hopeful view of the beautiful game upon this harrowing metropolitan stage.
When French Marc agreed to shoot our iconic 2011 Captain’s photo shoot in Times Square, we knew that he would deliver a piece of gold that would stand the test of time.
More importantly, when people around the world comment on Cosmos Copa and why it is so unique, we know it is mostly to do with how these moments are captured. For this French Marc, we salute you.
#5- The NYC PRESS
Good fortune is almost always aligned with the surroundings you inhabit. Luckily, Cosmos Copa has the fortune to be among among a multitude of talented writers that display the very brilliance these Cosmos Copa players exhibit on the fields of this amazing city every day, albeit in a different uniform.
This tournament has been blessed throughout the years to have some of the greatest soccer journalists in the world commenting on the events of the very brief moments that highlight the best of Cosmos Copa. For this we are forever grateful.
But, we would like to recognize the pen of the local NYC soccer journalists, who not only wrote an article or two about this amazing tournament, but actually covered Cosmos Copa as "beat writers" of sorts. From our Launch in April, to our Championship in July, these journalists dedicated countless hours on our fields and on their computers to bring clarity and substance to this tournament.
It is rare to find a negative story on Cosmos Copa, though if you dig deep enough you might find one. The reason is simple, the writers who cover Cosmos Copa have discovered that this tournament possesses what is missing when they cover the more “elite” soccer events around the world. These writers find sincerity, honesty and a genuine nature of what real soccer provides. They find not only culture and pride, but a humanity that is evident in every player who believes this game defines them, whatever level of soccer they may play.
There are many journalists who deserve our praises, but this short list of writers deserve a little more: Christopher Belac of the NYTimes Goal blog, Cesar Diaz, Nick Laveglia, Brandon A.F. Sonnier and everyone at 5 Points Press, Dave Witchard of First Touch, Chris Toy and the crew at www.kckrs.com and Christopher Dobbens of total footblog. We are very thankful for your service of giving a voice to Cosmos Copa and NYC soccer. To quote Cosmos Copa creative director Chris Noble, “YOU GUYS GET IT”!
#4- NYC JAPAN vs. NYC COLOMBIA: One Shot Saturday June 18,
This quintessential match served as a symbol of what Cosmos Copa is all about.
This was the last qualifying match of “One Shot Saturday” and the winner would proceed to the next round. NYC Colombia came into this match heavily favored, not only to win this match, but quite possibly the entire tournament. NYC Japan, on the other hand came into 2011 with a big question mark on their boots. The tournament was none-too-kind to them last year, being ousted and outclassed in the group-stage. Though NYC Japan president and coach Kenichi “Kenni” Yatsuhashi did the job of ten men to recruit and train this team, the jury was still out whether his efforts would bring success.
The world has a way to remind the soul of what is important in life, sometimes by the largest or smallest of means. In the case of NYC Japan, the catastrophic events in their homeland due to a massive earthquake and the aftermath gave this team sobering focus. NYC Japan was not training for months for just a soccer tournament, but a larger purpose; their brethren back in their native land. Letters of support came in from former national coaches and players giving Kenni’s team vital encouragement for the game of their lives.
History proves that sympathy has little regard in the pursuit of glory, no matter how sincere it may be. NYC Colombia worked as hard as any team in preparation for the chance to raise the Cosmos Cup. To add incentive, the home of the Cosmos Copa Championship Match was in the "Los Cafeteros" back yard” so to speak, as Corona Park, Flushing Meadows is flowing with the fantastic Colombian community. If this team were victorious against NYC Japan, their real pursuit would begin.
The match started with understatement. A small gathering of fans were present, with an edge to the Japanese. There was also a Japanese film crew filming the match due to the large interest growing in their homeland. NYC Japan gave a rousing rendition of their national anthem and the game began.
To give a minute-by-minute match report for this battle would be an injustice to its importance. As soon as the starting whistle blew, it was apparent that this game was going to be special. Each team traded blows immediately. If NYC Colombia would assume large amounts of possession and create opportunities, NYC Japan would retaliate with a deadly counter attack. The answer to whether NYC Japan had improved enough to compete with the likes of NYC Colombia was answered in the 1st half, when they took a 1-0 lead, NIPON! NYC Japan’s stand out player, wunderkind Adam Himeno was causing the Colombian defense fits and it didn't look like he was about to let up in the 2nd half.
Off the pitch, something amazing was happening. The public park of Parade Grounds Brooklyn hosts hundreds of families and people enjoying themselves every weekend, but rarely do the masses congregate around just one of the many fields to watch a soccer, football or baseball game. Throughout this match, a crowd started to form organically, largely due to the amazingly high level of play of both teams. From a humble crowd of 100 in the beginning, grew to a size of 200-then 300, with more to follow as the minutes accumulated.
NYC Colombia, feeling the pressure of potentially getting knocked out so early in the tournament, were reminded of their objective from earth trembling bellows of the coaches shouting instructions and berating referees. NYC Japan remained calm and withstood the NYC Colombia’s offensive onslaught for as long as they could. Late in the match, a free kick fell to the fateful foot of a Colombian player and an equalizer was born. The growing crowd went crazy!
The vibe was electric, both on and off the pitch. A women’s purse was stolen, adding more chaos surrounding this battle. Kinetic energy was omnipresent. When the dust settled on this 90-minute masterpiece, penalties would have to decide which of these 2 deserving teams would advance.
Each team traded successful penalty after successful penalty that left both goalkeepers flailing. NYC Japan captain and defensive stalwart, Hitoshi Mori Jin stepped up to the spot to make his only mistake of the match and put his shot in the outstretched hands of the opposing keeper. NYC Colombia slotted away the next PK to win the match and the team erupted in elation.
The next moments could not be written by the best of writers. The Colombian team went over to the middle of the park to try and console a devastated NYC Japan squad. The weight of their entire country was intentionally draped upon their shoulders and this loss simply deflated them. As each team hugged and congratulated each other, a slow applause had begun from the crowd. The adulation grew as the NYC Japan team slowly made their way to the sideline. The team, led by coach Kenni, bowed to them in unison. It is safe to say that the air got very dusty for many the people who witnessed this moment.
This match could have been the Cosmos Copa final in terms of talent and the sheer brilliance on the pitch. Some of the NYC Colombia ex-professionals on the roster, many of whom have played in major matches in front of thousands of fans, remarked that this was one of the best games they have ever played in. Unfortunately, NYC Colombia were drawn into a “group of death” in the next round and did not advance out of the group stage. Though neither team found individual glory in 2011, this particular match touched upon what is so very amazing and ruthless about the beautiful game. It was our privilege to have this poignant moment as a part of Cosmos Copa.
#3- The CINDERELLA STORY of NYC SENEGAL
NYC Senegal 1st came onto the Cosmos Copa arena in 2010, when they lost a difficult qualifying match in wicked weather conditions to NYC Ivory Coast in penalties. This loss left them silent and waiting another year for a chance to show their true quality.
Since that time, NYC Senegal, run by team president, 29 year-old Sadibou Sylla, formed a unit of players whose focus was directed squarely at the Cosmos Copa City Championship and the Cup that symbolizes the honor.
The team took to the field for their 1st match against a very good Russia team in the qualifying round. The collective size and stature of "Sadi's" squad caused immediate attention as many onlookers thought that this team was a professional outfit from afar. This match ended 3-0 to the good, and deservedly so. Team Russia could feel hard done by the blind draw that put these 2 teams together. Russia were a class squad and if they saw a different opponent, they may have advanced farther. Gossip in the world Cosmos Copa travels as fast as a Messi breakaway and from the moment this match was over, the myth of NYC Senegal had begun.
The sentence “have you seen NYC Senegal play yet?” was becoming nomenclature.
Sadi Sylla’s band of maestros swept through their remaining qualifying matches without giving up a goal and approached the tournament group stage as a clear favorite. They brushed off 2 very good teams immediately (NYC Ecuador and NYC Trinidad & Tobago respectively) as if they were an afterthought. Each goal they scored (and there were many) was celebrated by the entire team, as if 22 boots were needed to put the ball in back of the net.
The Group Stage held many anticipated matches, but the pinnacle had to be the final match of Group A, between NYC Senegal and NYC Jamaica (another exceptional team that put fear in the hearts of opposing coaches). Unfortunately for Cosmos Copa, scouts and neutral fans, this game was rendered moot, as both teams had the necessary points to progress to the next round. This match ended in an unsatisfying 1-1 draw that produced little of the fireworks that were expected. Still, as one international scout remarked, "after getting back from the Caribbean Islands scouting the World Cup qualifiers, the level of these 2 teams was noticeably better than what I witnessed".
High praise indeed.
The Qualifying match against a vibrant, but inconsistent NYC Haiti side further enhanced “Le Lions” lore. Just minutes into the match, NYC Senegal were 2-0 ahead and the match started to resemble a cat toying with a mouse before the slaughter. This match ended 7-2 and NYC Senegal still appeared to not have faced a real challenger in the tournament, though they dispensed of some very good sides.
Next up was a stellar NYC Mexico team, whose leading scorer, Usual Vasquez was in fine form and ready for the challenge. NYC Senegal, led by a bevy of soon to be Cosmos Copa all-stars in Mame Sambe, Oumar Niang and Mamadou Doudou Diop, to name just a few, came out of the gates firing and quickly took a quick 2-0 lead. A warranted red card early in the 1st half to NYC Senegal gave the Mexicans some hope they could get back in this match. Sure enough, they pulled within a goal before the half time interval. The heat was devastating and tempers were thinning, but the composure and sheer talent of NYC Senegal paved the way for a 3rd goal, cementing their place in the Championship match.
NYC Senegal surpassed every expectation and obstruction up to this point. The only thing that stood in the way of their storybook ending was a team that had a similar path a year ago, defending Champion NYC Poland, who also came from the qualifying round to win the championship the previous year.
Spirits were high with NYC Senegal before the match, with many "pundits" thinking victory was a foregone conclusion. National anthems were played, players were in position and the whistle blew to start this epic match.
NYC Senegal were stacked at every position, but injuries and the red card from the day before, mixed with a brutal tournament schedule was taking its toll. The player that could be dubbed the “Derek Jeter” of NYC Senegal, Pape Modou Thione, was a rock through every stage of the tournament and was dubbed the team MVP. Many quizzical faces appeared when his name was left off the all-star list and Thione could have a legitimate gripe about his omission. Pape deserves special mention for his fantastic tournament run.
NYC Senegal once again opened the show with a goal early in the match to take the lead and jubilance was ubiquitous. Euphoria for the Senegalese would change at the 43rd minute when the “shot heard round the world”, a 45 yard chip by NYC Poland MVP Teddy Niziolek went over goalkeeper Malik Faye’s outstretched hand.
As the 2nd half was underway, NYC Senegal did not look as sharp as they would need to be to compete against a team as organized as NYC Poland. Aggression took the place of elegance and tackles from both teams started to increase. Sure enough, it was NYC Poland’s dead ball expertise, the same weapon used to disperse a long line of foes to get them to this plateau, put them in the lead. This was the 1st time during the entire tournament that NYC Senegal were behind in a match during Cosmos Copa and unfortunately for them, a 3rd goal came in the dying minutes to force NYC Senegal to settle for 2nd place. Understandably, dejection and anger replaced the joy that was so infectious this team displayed throughout their Cosmos Copa voyage.
This result should not cloud what was one of the most impressive tournament campaigns in Cosmos Copa history. NYC Senegal deserve a place undoubtably among the best of NYC soccer teams. Their brand of football has been praised as “sublime”, “elegant” and “regal”. All these accolades fail to truly give an accurate portrait of this team. We look forward to many years of these amazing group of players and watch how NYC Senegal will raise the already high standard of soccer in NYC.
#2- NYC POLAND: The coach, the team, the fans
There are thousands of stories already written about double winning Cosmos Copa City Champions NYC Poland. Recently, a video clip of Golden Ball winner, midfielder Teddy Niziolek’s wondergoal has surpassed 208,000 views on youtube and was featured as a national “Top Play” on ESPN Sportscenter. It would be easy to write that one of our top moments of Cosmos Copa would be the soccer prowess and intelligence of NYC Poland’s back-to-back championship. That being said, we would like to explore and celebrate what makes NYC Poland the twice champions they have become.
Artur Kurasiewicz, the team president of NYC Poland is a quiet, intense man who works mostly behind the scenes with the Polish American Soccer Association, the team and management to ensure greatness. There is a mystery around the president, but it is obvious his talents and position are respected.
Coach “Big Mark” Kasprowicz is the voice, heartbeat and the unlikely symbol of NYC Poland. Big Mark is a hulk of a man, as wide as he is tall, but proven to be as nimble footed as Neymar when running away from a bucket of celebratory Gatorade. Kasprowicz has molded an organized and unified squad that trusts his tactical decisions completely. Most importantly, Big Mark is a gentleman. He treats every person and opponent alike in the Cosmos Copa family with respect and infectious likability. His amiable facade could be a fantastic decoy, since his competitive nature is overpowering. His Polish shrieks from the sideline have awakened sleeping babies in the surrounding Queens neighborhoods for two years running, not to mention seismic tremors have been detected any time NYC Poland are on the schedule! Coach Kasprowicz has received "Coach of the Year" honors two years in a row, which spurned New York Cosmos chairman Mr. Kemsley to ask Big Mark, “Maybe we should talk to you about a contract, yeah?”
No coach, no matter how talented, can bring a team to glory without the right players to get him there. Luckily, the Polish community of greater New York is vast and soccer crazy. NYC Poland has an amazing player pool to choose from, which can be a curse when a final roster must be decided. In 2010, NYC Poland entered the tournament with massive amounts of experience, led by their own “baby faced assassin” 28 year old Chris Karcz, who bagged 7 goals and 3 pieces of silverware in that campaign (Golden Boot, Golden Ball, and the Championship). This year however, injury took Karcz out of the running to make the 2011 roster (though Mr. Karcz may have shown a new career opportunity as a soccer analyst, receiving worldwide praise for his Livestream broadcast contributions during the tournament). Imagine Portugal losing Ronaldo, or England Missing Rooney and you realize that most teams just can’t make up for a loss this great. NYC Poland did not wilt and replaced Karcz with 19 year-old starlet Damien Bziukiwicz. The promising, but unproven speedster more than held his own during the 2011 Championship run. The weight of responsibility to carry this team to another championship would fall on the capable shoulders of 2011 Golden Ball winner, Teddy Niziolek and Zbigniew Puzio. This midfield tandem covered a staggering amount of the field and were virtually never out of position. They were partnered with a juggernaught of a defense, led by Captain and goalkeeper, Marcin Czerwinski. The back 5 play with a defensive style that could be better defined as “Tarantino” than “Catenaccio”. This bold squad are never afraid to take, or put in a hard tackle and always give as good as they get. What separates this team from the pretenders is fantastic organization and undivided unity for the cause. Cosmos Copa has become a very important tournament for the sizable American Polish soccer community. NYC Poland have been covered nationally and internationally, even recognized by the Polish National Football Association for their excellence. This adulation is supported by their family atmosphere on and off the pitch and symbolized emphatically by their amazing fans.
The Polish community love their soccer as much as they love their vodka. When NYC Poland play, they forever have a ”Twelfth man” in the stands. The Cosmos Copa tournament is an arduous, 6 game, 3-weekend competition leading to the championship match, which combines attrition and skill to succeed. It is very difficult to rely on a community in a metropolitan summertime to commit 3 weekends in the heat to watch "amateur soccer". That said, NYC Poland’s fans have never missed a game, from group stage, to final. This devotion has pushed this team over certain defeat, carried them to the threshold of greatness and celebrated their victories as if it were the World Cup. If any team wants to learn how to become a Cosmos Copa City Champion, they should rip a page from NYC Poland's handbook and, by any means necessary, get the community to rally around their team. The proof is in the silverware.
To all the NYC Poland fans, here and worldwide, Cosmos Copa Hail your support! We appreciate everything you bring to the tournament and we hope that other teams follow your incredible lead.
#1- The WORLD’S SPORT in the WORLD’S CITY: The level of amateur soccer in NYC
If there was one thing Cosmos Copa has been most humbled by, is the significant and rapid ascent of the talent that has evolved in these 3 short years. Not only has the historic New York Cosmos name and legend attributed to this rise, but the simple notion of playing for your country and community has quickly made this tournament a new tradition for NYC soccer. In 2009, the talent level was great, with many teams carrying quality players. NYC Albania were deserving title holders, proving you don’t have to be Brazil to be a city champion. From that moment on, we saw communities form committees and selection boards to find quality players from the 5 boroughs and beyond to create a team worthy of lifting the Cosmos Cup. In 2010, we saw many teams (mostly the teams that participated the previous year) battle with much more depth and talent. Undoubtably, the cream rose to the top. Our Championship Match that year hosted the most talented and organized teams in the tournament, NYC Poland and NYC Jamaica. Cosmos Copa also hosted PELE and the news of the New York Cosmos' triumphant return, which received international attention. This news traveled throughout the NYC soccer landscape like wildfire. With the Cosmos acquiring Copa, each team would become representatives of the famous club in their communities in a sense.
The amount of community teams interested in joining Cosmos Copa grew and many teams were working year round to find talent and awareness for victory in Cosmos Cup 2011. In just 3 years, the tournament has grown from 16, to 22, to 30 teams, with several more communities applying for 2012.
The talent level of Cosmos Copa was evident from the 1st day of Qualifying Weekend, where every team could be considered legitimate contenders to make it to the group stage. It would not be inconceivable to say that several teams that did not make it through qualifying could have competed for the championship if the luck of the draw were different.
This amazing array of talent was epitomized during the group stage of Cosmos Copa. It was remarked by virtually every coach, scout and journalist that the quality of soccer was off the charts. Many teams’ boasted ex-professionals on their rosters. Others carried some of NYC’s finest youth players over the age of 18. To the layman and seasoned veteran alike, Cosmos Copa had embodied some of the greatest amateur talent ever assembled in the city and arguably the country on this great day July 24th.
We can say with conviction that the 2 best teams in the tournament made it to the final. We can also say that a different bounce here, or an offside call there, any number of teams could be called 2011 Cosmos Cup Champions.
This amazing jump in quality in such a short amount of time is testament to the commitment of these communities' endeavor and their passion to be recognized as a NYC soccer power. These amazing coaches and players strive to be noticed, not only by the several scouts in attendance, but the thousands of fans following them from the stands and their homeland, via livestream broadcast and social media.
Cosmos Copa's intentions have always been to grow organically and build for Sustainability. This route was chosen primarily because New York City needs an annual event that includes soccer as its foundation.
Of course... In NYC, you must be the best, or go home.
With the legendary name of The New York Cosmos driving this event, expectations inevitably will grow; but the theory will remain the same. Cosmos Copa is incredibly proud to build soccer first and hype later, with substance being the key ingredient to this 4-Star meal. This concept is best personified by the amount of presidents, coaches and players who attended the later stages of the tournament after being knocked out in earlier rounds. They come as fans as well as participants, proud to be a chapter of this continuing story of NYC Soccer.
As this tournament grows and evolves, we have no doubt that the masses will follow, much like the slow and steady growth of the ING New York Marathon, which many don't realize started with just 50 people running around in Central Park in 1970.
Thank you to everyone who have sweat and bled for the Cosmos Copa movement. Our respect and admiration for every team grows as exponentially as your talents. When Cosmos Copa receives praise as being one of the most organized and professional grassroots tournaments in the country (something we hear frequently) we always pass this praise forward to the fantastic teams that make it so. This is your tournament New York City and we will always be indebted.
Cheers you all and we are already working on making 2012 bigger and better!