Frequent contributor Jon Marthaler has written about virtually every sport in the Twin Cities, and fills in on Saturdays for the RandBall blog on StarTribune.com. He'll cover the professional soccer scene in the Twin Cities, whether at the Metrodome or at the National Sports Center.
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Chances are, if you've heard anything about the NASL this fall, the New York Cosmos have been mentioned. The Cosmos were the most famous club of the original incarnation of the NASL, winning the league five times; they're what people think of, when they think of pre-MLS soccer in America - Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Giorgio Chinaglia, and all the rest.
It's fair to say that the current NASL was near-desperate to get the Cosmos name back into the fold. (It was long rumored, though never confirmed, that one of the reasons for the split season this year was to get the Cosmos on the field as soon as possible, even though they couldn't be ready for the April opening day.) It's led to a huge amount of publicity for the league; even The Economist took a break from world and business news to mention the re-formation of the team.
Publicity aside, though, New York still had the small problem of forming a team from scratch and competing with seven other squads that already had a half-season in the books. I thought that they'd either be dominant or awful, but so far, they're splitting the difference; they're undefeated in three home games, with two last-minute victories and a draw, but have yet to win on the road, with two draws and a loss. The Cosmos sit fourth in the standings, one point above Minnesota.
New York has put together a veteran, experienced defense. Kyle Reynish, who started seven games over three seasons for Real Salt Lake, has played all six games in goal for the team. Left back Hunter Freeman was a regular for Colorado last season, and Houston the season before that; center backs Carlos Mendes (158 MLS appearances from 2005-12) and Roversio (a veteran of La Liga in Spain) also bring a wealth of experience. The only youngster featuring regularly over the past few games is right back Hunter Gorskie, who is in his rookie year. The 22-year-old began the year at center back but has switched to right back (at least, according to the posted lineups).
The midfield is anchored by Marcos Senna, perhaps one of the biggest names in the new NASL's history. Senna won a European Championship for Spain in 2008, and played much of eleven seasons for Spanish giants Villareal. At 37, he's taking his chance to be the new Beckenbauer, so to speak, and he leads the Cosmos with two scores (though admittedly one was a penalty and the other was a free kick on which the Edmonton wall accidentally jumped over his low shot).
New York has also offered a path back into soccer for American international Danny Szetela, whose name might be familiar to US national team fans from his three appearances for the team in the late part of the last decade. He was enough of a prospect that MLS held a weighted lottery for his rights when he signed in 2004, but he was out of soccer by 2010, due to a knee injury that eventually required three surgeries.
The midfield has lately been rounded out by Ayoze, who also played two seasons in La Liga for Sporting de Gijon, and American youngster Hagop Chirishan. Up front, the Cosmos have gone with some combination of Diomar Diaz, Alessandro Noselli, and Stefan Dimitrov; the three have combined for two goals, as the Cosmos have scored only six in six matches.
Even so, it's going to be difficult for Minnesota to get a win at New York. The Cosmos are drawing some of the league's largest crowds to Hofstra University, their temporary home, and they're playing genuinely good soccer. Though United will talk about making a statement with a win, a point on the road would probably be a good result for the visitors on Saturday.
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