New York Soccer: Patrick Vieira

W2W4: NY Cosmos at Manchester United

August, 5, 2011
Don't call it a comeback -- they've been here at least a year.

A mere four days after the one-year anniversary of the reincarnation of a distinctly American soccer phenomenon, the New York Cosmos will kick off in their first high-profile match in 27 years on Friday against famed English Premier League club Manchester United at Old Trafford in Greater Manchester, England. Despite no league affiliation and no regular players above the Academy level, the New York side will become the first American club to play a match at Old Trafford.

The friendly will serve as a testimonial match to longtime Man U midfielder Paul Scholes, who retired following the 2010-11 EPL season after spending his entire 15-year career playing for the Red Devils. Scholes will don the iconic red kit of Manchester United one last time as a player before committing to his new role as a coach for the only club to ever issue him a paycheck.

Key Matchup: Cosmos vs. Their Own Expectations. The ghosts of Cosmos past include the likes of German sweeper Franz Beckenbauer, Italian striker Giorgio Chinaglia, and the prolific Brazilian forward Pelé, but the starting XI of today's Cosmos are household names in the soccer world for other reasons.

Cosmos Director of Soccer Eric Cantona will field a side for a 4-3-3 formation consisting largely of mercenaries who likely won't be part of the club's playing days to come. Cantona's personnel includes notable Manchester United players in Gary Neville, Nicky Butt, and Dwight Yorke along with Italian center back Fabio Cannavaro, French midfielder Patrick Vieira, and an American duo of forward Brian McBride and goalkeeper Brad Friedel.

For as much as that star-studded squad will gather to celebrate the Scholes Testimonial, they will also represent a Cosmos organization seeking accreditation on the domestic soccer scene. First impressions are everything, especially for a club attempting to impress MLS in order to join the ranks of the American league.

Mercy Me. Though Cantona had only two practice sessions to morph his makeshift squad into playing form, he can't expect his former club to pull any punches for an American club reestablishing its identity.

Manchester United arrives for today's match fresh off a US Tour in which they posted a 17-2 score against American opponents, including a 7-0 drubbing of the Seattle Sounders on July 20 and a 4-0 win over the MLS All-Stars on July 27. Sir Alex Ferguson also managed the Edwin van der Sar Dream Team on Wednesday in a testimonial match against the first club of the longtime Man U goalkeeper, Ajax Amsterdam.

Ferguson called upon current Red Devils Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs, and Nemanja Vidic among others on Wednesday, and will not hesitate to do so again for Friday's tribute to Scholes -- even as the club prepares for the FA Community Shield match against derby rival Manchester City this Sunday. Manchester United did not hold back against their US opponents nor in the van der Sar testimonial and they won't start now for the Cosmos.

Class Reunion. Pelé will be on hand as the Cosmos' Honorary President to connect the club to its history, but the Manchester United history could outshine that connection before what is expected to be a sellout crowd at Old Trafford.

Four members of the Manchester United's Class of '92 squad -- named for the many talented players to emerge from the Red Devils squad that won the FA Youth Cup in 1992 -- could appear on the field, with Neville and Butt playing for Cantona's Cosmos while Scholes and Giggs play for Manchester United.

A notable absence from the Class of '92 players appearing on Friday is Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder David Beckham. According to The Daily Mail, Beckham was unable to attend the match due to contract restrictions -- though the Galaxy previously grant him permission to leave the club to play in the Gary Neville Testimonial in May. The Galaxy did not reply to an email seeking confirmation about Beckham's availability.

Cosmos Mania ready to invade Old Trafford

August, 5, 2011
It's not a stretch to describe the New York Cosmos as an American equivalent of the Beatles.

The Fab Four left an indelible mark in music through 12 iconic albums that John, Paul, George, and Ringo produced in a mere ten years' time, while the first incarnation of the Cosmos left a lasting imprint on American sports that still captures the hearts and minds of those who saw them play -- despite the club's existence spanning a meager 15 years and only three with legendary Brazilian playmaker Pelé in the fold.

So when the second coming of the Cosmos kick off as the first American club to play at Old Trafford against the iconic English Premier League side Manchester United, please forgive them for borrowing another page from the Beatles' playbook.

At their essence, the Beatles effectively engaged in the musical equivalent of money laundering -- they took a distinct American musical form in rock 'n roll, gave it a haircut, and sent it back to America as their own creation.

Meanwhile, the Cosmos will take another distinctly American phenomenon (themselves) to England, the birthplace of soccer. They'll authenticate themselves by fielding a side of EPL soccer stars -- including former Man U captain Gary Neville, American striker Brian McBride, and French midfielder Patrick Vieira -- that's led by another former Red Devils captain in Eric Cantona against one of the premier soccer clubs in the world.

And after the final whistle blows on the Paul Scholes Testimonial Match, the Cosmos will head back to America to reintroduce themselves as the next big thing in American soccer.

For the second coming of a soccer club whose greatest success was producing the sporting equivalent of Beatlemania, the Cosmos know they need more than a star-studded exhibition at a historic soccer stadium to recapture those New York hearts and minds again. They still have a very long way to go before Major League Soccer will embrace American soccer's prodigal son.

Until they uncover the combination of form and finances that MLS deems suitable, the Cosmos are left to prepare for their first high-profile competitive match in 27 years by reiterating the style that the club has established in its Academy efforts.

"We are exactly the same way that we ask our academy teams to play," said Cosmos Academy director Giovanni Savarese. "There’s nothing different that’s been what we’ve been trying to install with our academy, which is educating soccer. Our system is no other than 4-3-3, but every system is a good place to start and then adapt to the game that you’re playing and the team you’re playing against. We’re trying to have a team that has a lot of movement, can shoot the ball the right way, and have entertaining soccer."

Savarese knows the demands of creating entertaining soccer in New York as well as anyone. After a decorated college career at Long Island University, the Venezuelan forward was drafted in the 9th round of the MLS Inaugural Player Draft by the NY/NJ MetroStars (now the New York Red Bulls). Despite playing only three seasons at the Meadowlands, Savarese became the MetroStars' all-time leading scorer with a still-standing record of 44 goals -- the first of which was the first in MetroStars history.

Just as he himself came of age playing soccer in New York City, Savarese now works to develop the talent that will become the hallmark of the new Cosmos.

"Any successful organization is able to develop the players to play for the first team," said Savarese. "We don’t want to be a team only built by players from all over the world. We welcome every player, but we want to make sure we have homegrown talent and we’re willing to develop them and make them grow and we’ll add anything we need to make it exciting and make it good. We want people not to come for names. We want people to come to watch good players and a good team that’s trying to entertain them in a good way."

A sextet of that homegrown talent made the trip across the Atlantic in part to recognize their Academy accomplishments and in part to provide a taste of what's to come for the Cosmos.

The names of Ibrahim Diaby, an 18-year-old midfielder and current student at Martin Luther King, Jr. High School in Manhattan, or 19-year-old Cosmos Academy West standout Marvin Iraheta may not yet grab the headlines like Pelé or Cantona, but they'll be on the sideline soaking in this experience and studying it for future reference.

Ultimately, that experience is the takeaway for what will appear to some as a brand-conscious Cosmos club fielding a Harlem Globetrotters-like side against Manchester United. When the final whistle blows on Friday and the soccer spotlight shines elsewhere, these Cosmos, unlike their forefathers, understand what it will take to get back to where they once belonged in the American soccer pantheon.

"We continue working," said Savarese. "This is just one step to what we’re trying to do. We continue to try and build the academy, finding more players. We’ll continue to have more international matches. We have to build a stadium. In the meantime, while we’re waiting to hopefully be accepted to participate in MLS, in that time, we’re still building up a team that will be playing for that. We’ll continue working."

Will they work it out? The Cosmos start finding out Friday.
We have to build a stadium.