The ads for the new New York Cosmos say, "Don't Call it a Comeback." The insinuation is that the old, larger-than-life soccer giant never really left, when, perhaps, it would be more appropriate to say this latest reboot is still on its way back.
After 29 years of dormancy, the Cosmos returned to Hofstra's Shuart Stadium Saturday night, and Long Island earned itself another professional soccer team. The sellout crowd of nearly 12,000 was almost demure -- the chants, when they emerged, suffered from lack of practice; there was nary a vuvuzela to be had -- and one of the biggest rises came when Pelé, 72 years old, nearly four decades retired and still the face of this team, sauntered onto the pitch during a pregame ceremony and raised his waving hands to the stands.
Until, of course, the Cosmos reminded everyone what those old winning ways feel like. Alessandro Noselli scored on a header -- a ball he sneaked past a charging Richard Sanchez, who came out of goal -- to win it, 2-1, for a rebooted squad in the second minute of stoppage time over the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in the North American Soccer League home opener.
"After [all] these years, to come back and win was euphoric," Marcos Senna said.
And despite not being the same blockbuster squad that put U.S. soccer on the map through the 1970s and '80s, there were more than enough moments of promise even before the game-winner. It could be seen in the dynamic play of Senna, the 36-year-old La Liga veteran who found new life in Hempstead, of all places, and in Peri Marosevic, the young Yugoslavian who tipped in goalie Richard Sanchez's rebound to open the scoring in the 44th minute.
"I think patience is the best virtue for us," coach Giovanni Savarese said. "Right away, we have a better base than in the past . . . We're very happy to have started a new future with the Cosmos."
Meanwhile, the scene at Hofstra was almost carnival-like, with a long, snaking line of cars that threatened to take over big chunks of Earle Ovington Boulevard. The area right outside the stands was befitted with quirky food trucks (gourmet grilled cheese, anyone?), Cosmos merchandise kiosks and a thematically misplaced fruit stand.
Even more than that, the play was physical, and the Cosmos, who signed their first player a little more than eight months ago, seemed adept at keeping up with the Strikers, their old rivals.
Walter Restrepo tied the score in the 73rd minute on a header that bounced past Kyle Reynish. Otherwise, the Strikers' biggest threats came early, on Restrepo's wide cross in the 12th minute and Reynish's diving slap save 36:15 into the game.
All signs point to things getting better. The Cosmos hope to move to Belmont Racetrack, and Seamus O'Brien, Cosmos chairman and founder of Singapore-based sports promotion group World Sports Group, has gone on record with his willingness to spend more and build the team in the coming years.
That will help beef up those player-specific chants that, by the time Noselli scored his goal, turned into a spirited "Let's go Cosmos!"
So, fine. Don't call it a comeback. Yet.