Cosmos celebrate winning the 2013 NASL title against the Atlanta Silverbacks (FrontRowSoccer.com Photo)
The last time Giovanni Savarese played for a soccer championship in Atlanta, his New York Cosmos recorded a 1-0 victory over the Atlanta Silverbacks to win Soccer Bowl and the North American Soccer League crown in 2013. Here is a look back at the game.
By Michael Lewis
Giovanni Savarese could not have been any more emphatic.
“The New York Cosmos are back,” the Cosmos head coach said matter-of-factly.
Indeed they are.
And if any skeptics needed any convincing they only needed to watch what transpired in the North American Soccer League final Saturday, Nov. 9. The Cosmos placed a huge exclamation point on their remarkable comeback season to competitive soccer with a 1-0 victory over the host Atlanta Silverbacks in Soccer Bowl.
While they did not boast the legendary names of the past — Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and Carlos Alberto, among others –the Cosmos again became the club that opposing fans and teams love to hate — and emulate. They last played in the NASL in 1984.
“It’s wonderful for the league,” said former U.S. international striker Eric Wynalda, Atlanta’s technical director. “For them to win, for them to have a rivalry with everybody is always good. They are the Yankees of this league. And everybody wants to hate them and wants to beat them. They have to deal with that kind of stuff. It’s always going to be something positive, even though it will feel like a negative at times. It’s a good thing to have the Cosmos playing professional soccer in this country.”
Though the Cosmos won the championship in the second tier of U.S. Soccer, they did not earn promotion to the top flight, Major League Soccer, which is a separate entity from the NASL. The Cosmos at one time expressed interest in joining MLS, but opted to play in the NASL because there was no player salary cap and other restrictions.
They also have some ambitious plans. They want to build a 25,000-seat football stadium on the grounds of Belmont Park, the famed race track that hosts the last leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown.
Their presence is expected to raise the bar and then some for the league, which will expand to 11 teams in 2014 and 13 in 2015.
Prior to the game, the Cosmos were shut out in the top league honors. There was a backlash because they played in only the fall season as opposed to the seven other sides that participated in both the spring and fall seasons. The Silverbacks won the spring season to clinch a Soccer Bowl berth as hosts.
Former Spanish international midfielder Marcos Senna, a vital force with the Euro 2008 champions, was regarded by many as the best player in the league, but did not win Most Valuable Player.
Savarese, who six months ago took a bunch of strangers and molded them into a winning side (9-4-1, 31 points) en route to the fall season crown, lost out in the coach of the year voting.
“Awards are just trophies to put in the living room,” he said.
So, the Cosmos went out and earned some silverware for their sixth NASL championship for their trophy case.
Senna went out and showed his class by scoring the final’s lone goal.
“There’s no question he has been the best player in this league, not only on our team,” Savarese said. “He’s done great things. His experience was tremendous for us. We are very proud to have him on the team. He fit right in with the identity with the way we wanted to play. He is’ athletic, very comfortable with the ball. He gives us the possibility of having breaks during the match. He was able to score goals as well. He scored six goals this season. So, right there, gives you what Marcos Senna is.
“As well as in the locker room, he puts things together. He’s talking to the youngsters. So he’s been a great force for us this season for sure.”
Asked to put his latest championship into perspective, Senna replied, “It’s difficult to describe the sensation because every tournament is different. If it isn’t bigger, it’s at least the same feeling that I had when I won with Spain, the Euro Cup. For me, it has been a great moment, this victory.”
Senna returned home a conquering hero as four days after winning the league title he and his Cosmos teammates left for Spain to play in a tribute match at his former club Villarreal.
“I am eager to go back to Villarreal to see my friends to see the ownership that has been so great for me, and I’m grateful for everything they have done and grateful for what the Cosmos is doing for me right now,” he said. “It will be a great moment when I go back to Villarreal.”
Senna is not known for his goal-scoring prowess. He connected for 25 goals during a 12-year tenure that lasted 292 La Liga matches. But he came through for the Cosmos when they needed it the most. His Saturday night special “was a beautiful goal,” Savarese said.
After an Atlanta foul, left back Ayoze sent a 30-yard free kick on the left side that a defender headed out of the penalty area. The ball came to Senna, who lobbed an 18-yard shot from the right side into the upper far corner over goalkeeper Joe Nasco.
“It’s difficult for me to describe the goal the way it went,” he said. “It was a moment of happiness. That was the goal to be able to win the championship. It wasn’t only a goal that I scored. It was a goal that had the whole team in behind the coaching staff, the players. The whole season we worked so hard. We deserved to be the champions. The goal just summarized everything that we did during the season.”
Senna, 37, indicated he is ready for an encore performance.
“Definitely I will play next year and hopefully not only next year, but more years if my body feels good,” he said. “I want to retire with the New York Cosmos.”
That’s not exactly what fans and NASL teams want to hear from the team they love to hate and will have to emulate.