The Beginning Has Begun
Friday night I joined a small crowd – perhaps 50-60 people – to watch the New York Cosmos U23 team beat the Westchester Flames 2-1 in a PDL exhibition game at Columbia University’s soccer stadium. Amidst the family and friends, and the Cosmos staff, there was a good turnout from the Borough Boys Supporters Club, singing songs and leading cheers. It was a far cry from the Meadowlands, and my memories of the original Cosmos some 30 years ago. And though some of you might dismiss the notion of a PDL team, thinking it as meaningless as the Cosmos announcing another clothing line, or international ambassador, it is significant, and let me explain why.
Assuming the Cosmos are on track to enter the league in 2014, the kids we saw Friday night could very well provide the backbone for that team. Coached by Cosmos Academy East director Giovanni Savarese, the squad included a number of players from the Cosmos U18 Academy side, who have only been playing together for just under a year. Plus there were handful of other players who joined the club this summer, with this being only their eighth game of ten.
Fielding an MLS team in three years gives the Cosmos the advantage of building a strong, young squad, whereas most MLS clubs rely heavily on the draft to pull together players who have likely never even met one another. True, the Cosmos will surely scoop up some talent in the draft, once they join the league, and acquire some exceptional designated players, but the core of the team is being built right now, as we watch. It’s fascinating, when you think about it.
Of course there were some growing pains, quite evident on the pitch. At times, Westchester looked more polished. They certainly were better at delivering the long ball. They also understood that “fast” is an important part of the “fast break.” And they rarely gave the Cosmos a chance to turn with the ball.
But if you looked past the poor passes, indulgent dribbling, and often uncoordinated attacks, there was plenty of potential to be seen from this young Cosmos squad. Once they build that bond, that understanding amongst each other, their performance should improve exponentially.
The Cosmos have two more years of PDL play with which to build the core of a competitive MLS team. Plus they will continue to groom kids from their thriving Academy program. The critics can continue to criticize, just as the haters will continue to hate, but even my 16 year-old nephew can see the wisdom of this approach, and appreciate that he is able to watch it happen. As he’s already a veteran of two World Cups, Friday night’s PDL exhibition was far from the best 90 minutes of soccer he’s seen, but it may prove to be among the more memorable. Just as some of the Borough Boys’ songs stuck in his head. The beginning has indeed begun.