In the 1970s, before they were the talk of the soccer world in North America, before Pelé’s arrival led to their meteoric rise to fame, the New York Cosmos called Hofstra University home. They had modest results and played to modest crowds. However, they weren’t under the radar long. The Cosmos assembled a team of the sport’s finest, including the iconic Pelé and European stars Franz Beckenbauer and Giorgio Chinaglia, to win five league titles altogether, playing to nearly 50,000 fans a night before the decade was over.
But the superstars of soccer all moved on and in their absence attendance plummeted. In June 1985 the old Cosmos played their final game, a loss to Lazio in front of 8,677 at the old Giants Stadium.
Now decades later, the Cosmos are reborn, back on Long Island where they cut their teeth in pro soccer. They begin their season next month at Hofstra’s James M. Shuart Stadium and while matching their forefathers’ fanfare is no small feat, that is exactly the club’s goal.
“We have a commitment to work toward getting back there where the Cosmos belong,” head coach Giovanni Savarese said. “That goes for the whole coaching staff, the team and everybody who works at the office. We are conscious of our history but also want to create a bright future for this team and not only represent the Cosmos on the field but off the field as well.”
For Savarese, it’s special to be at the helm. He attended Pelé’s soccer camps as a youngster, spent more than 15 seasons in the pros and with the Venezuelan national team and is now back where his soccer career started. He’ll direct a team that features several former Major League Soccer (MLS) headliners, including Carlos Mendes, Hunter Freeman and Peri Maroševi?. “Being the head coach of the New York Cosmos is a great privilege,” Savarese said. “I respect the tradition of the club and everything it has done in the past, but also cherish the opportunity to move from the present into the future.”
They will capitalize on soccer’s rise in popularity in North America. It’s no niche sport anymore. Seattle’s MLS team averages nearly 40,000 fans a match. The Red Bulls are pushing 20,000 themselves. The Cosmos will play in the North American Soccer League, a feeder league for the MLS, which features 12 teams from Edmonton and Minnesota to Fort Lauderdale and San Antonio.
As Cosmos, they have a lot to live up to, but at the same time, they’re charged with winning over a new generation of soccer fans. “I think our team represents something important,” Savarese said. “It has a history, and a lot of people still have great memories of the Cosmos. Still, we have to show up strong, to build something that people want to see, to treat players and the community the right way. It’s great to see the energy that everyone is putting in.”
The Cosmos heritage has much to do with entertainment. It was founded in 1971 by Warner Brothers President Steve Ross and Atlantic Records’ co-founders Ahmet & Nesuhi Ertegun.
The Defender: Hunter Freeman
Hunter Freeman is a bit of an urban cowboy. He grew up in Allen, TX, just on the outskirts of Dallas, but is more than familiar with the countryside, having been born in east Texas.
“I didn’t grow up in a podunk town, but I have a lot of experience in a podunk town,” Freeman said. “My dad has a bunch of horses and my brother has 400-plus acres. I’ve spent a fair share of time there. A lot of people enjoy either the city or the country. I enjoy both. I enjoy the hustle and bustle, and it doesn’t get any bigger than New York City, but it’s also nice to get away from that and go hunting or ride four-wheelers or have a bonfire.”
Freeman spent part of his high school years at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL, before an illustrious career at the University of Virginia. The Colorado Rapids selected him with the seventh overall pick in the 2005 MLS Draft and he played six seasons in MLS between four teams.
One of the aforementioned teams was the Red Bulls, where Freeman played two seasons. During that time he met his wife and it’s those ties to the metro area that ultimately led Freeman to eschew MLS offers from other cities in order to return to New York.
“When I was weighing offers, it was important for me to see where the Cosmos wanted to be in a year or two and also 10, 15 years down the road,” said the 28-year-old, who also spent two seasons in Tippeligaen, Norway’s top pro league. “I saw this as an opportunity to get back to the area that I love and enjoy. It’s great to get in on the ground floor and enjoy the highs and lows, and I think there will be more highs than lows.”
He’ll have his hands full with the North American Soccer League’s top forwards, but he still finds time to put the work in at home. He and his wife gave birth to their second daughter in the spring. The Freeman family has settled in Long Beach and enjoy being on the water.
“With kids, it’s great to have cheap entertainment nearby, which we have in Long Beach,” Freeman said. “We go out for walks a lot or go to the beach. It’s exciting to see the recovery from Hurricane Sandy and to see that it hasn’t turned people away. Like with the Cosmos, it’s great to be a part of a rebirth.”
The Defender: Carlos Mendes
Carlos Mendes just missed the hype around the Cosmos their first time around. However his parents, immigrants from Portugal, frequented their games and thus Mendes knew the names of all the team’s greats—Pelé, Beckenbauer and Chinaglia.
“The Cosmos are part of my history and now they’re part of my future,” Mendes said.
His pro career has come full circle. It began on the Island as a member of the Long Island Rough Riders, took him north to Rochester and back to the metro area for seven seasons with the New York MetroStars and Red Bulls. After a season with MLS’ Columbus Crew, he signed with the Cosmos. Their home field at Shuart Stadium is just 10 minutes from Mendes’ alma mater, Mineola High School.
“Growing up playing the sport and to make a living out of it really is a dream come true,” Mendes said. “I definitely have to pinch myself sometimes.”
The young Cosmos squad’s backline will find Mendes as capable an anchor as he has been nearly everywhere he’s gone. Even at 32, he’s still in the team’s long-term plans, including when he’s hung up his cleats. Head coach Gio Savarese told the New York Post upon signing Mendes that “he’ll be part of this organization after he’s done playing.”
For now though, Mendes is reveling in the fact that he’s back home to finish his career. Hooking up with the Cosmos allowed him to settle in with his wife, also from Mineola, and get involved with the community. His brother works with developmentally disabled children at Mineola High School, and Mendes is able to drop in and help. An avid drummer, he also jams with his brother-in-law, Bryce Larsen, a former American Idol contestant and vocalist for the Island-based band Stealing Jane.
“Music is definitely my other passion,” Mendes said. “I grew up playing the drums, and it’s nice that I can play with him in the city or out on Long Island every once in a while… I love Long Island and I love New York. This is home to me.”
The Striker: Peri Maroševi?
New York—it’s a melting pot unlike any other. And that’s why striker Peri Maroševi? will fit right in. He was born in Yugoslavia, now Bosnia, to Croatian parents. In the midst of the country’s turmoil, they moved to Germany when Maroševi? was 2 and before he was a teenager the family moved to Illinois. He went to high school in Florida and starred at the University of Michigan.
As a pro, he’s well traveled too, even at 23—Chicago, Dallas, Austin, Toronto, and then a season with Junak Sinj in Croatia. He’s hoping to settle down in a city that celebrates diversity.
“The world knows New York and all that it has to offer,” Maroševi? said. “I’ve always wanted to experience living here, and now that I do, I’m very excited about it.”
He was one of approximately 200 players invited to try out at the Cosmos combine in February, and Savarese will count on the young striker, who was taken fifth overall in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft by FC Dallas, to put the ball in the back of the net. He’s aware of the game’s greats who came before him.
“To represent a club that has such a rich history is going to be a great feeling,” Maroševi? said. “I will be humbled and honored to wear a Cosmos jersey.”
He will embrace his experience in the Big Apple, having only made occasional visits with other teams in the MLS. In particular, he looks forward to indulging in a wide variety of cuisine and adding some international flavor to his own kitchen. Maroševi? is quite an avid cook.
“I like to make pita,” said Maroševi?, referring to a traditional Balkan pie. “There are three different kinds—cheese-filled, potato and meat-filled. My mother makes it look easy and I’m still trying to learn how to do it. It’s very simple, not more than five ingredients and the taste is unbelievable.”
Having grown up outside of Chicago and now living in New York, he has a unique perspective on pizza. Which is better?
“I’d have to go New York,” Marosevic said. “I do like deep dish, but there’s something about the thin crust here.”
Countrymen from around the world come together for the annual Cosmos Copa tournament.
Playing for one’s country on the world stage is reserved for only the most elite players. The Cosmos Copa 2013 will give hundreds of soccer players in and around New York City that chance, celebrating the diversity of New York City and the international sport of soccer.
Cosmos Copa is a World Cup of sorts, this year welcoming community-based teams that represent 36 countries, from the US, England and Spain to Afghanistan, Gambia and defending champion Haiti. Group play for the tournament began in late June and after a knockout stage two teams will duel for the Copa title.
Competition is fierce—wearing a country’s colors can do that. Teams have a president, coaches, practices, scrimmages and a boatload of pride. It is a citywide tournament, with games played on Randall’s Island, Pier 40, Octagon Field on Roosevelt Island, at Corona Park in Flushing Meadows and in the shadow of Yankee Stadium at Macombs Dam Park.
Cosmos Copa 2013 is the fifth such tournament and has received a lift with the emergence of the New York Cosmos, who have lent their support.
The New York Cosmos currently call Shuart Stadium home, a 15,000-seat facility that has hosted professional lacrosse and football in the past. But the team has its sights set on something bigger.
On January 11, 2013, the New York Cosmos submitted an economic development proposal, named Elmont Town Crossings, to the State of New York to transform two sections of Belmont Park into a privately-funded vibrant entertainment, retail, hotel, office and open space complex that will be anchored by a world-class professional soccer stadium.
Plans for the stadium call for 25,000 seats, plus easy rail access via a skywalk over Hempstead Turnpike that would also lead to a restaurant row and a 175-room hotel. Then, of course, there is Belmont Race Track right next door. Total cost would run $400 million, all privately financed.
“We chose Belmont Park after extensive due diligence on other locations,” said Cosmos Chief Operating Officer Erik Stover. “There were numerous factors that made the site perfect for us. First, we’re responding directly to a state request for RFP… Furthermore, we’re not taking away any public park land but developing on land that is already zoned for stadium and sports use and in addition to that we’re building a brand new 4.5-acre public park as part of the development.”
Plans were submitted to the Empire State Development Corporation, which had not announced a decision at press time.