ATLANTA - An old yet familiar cry was heard around the soccer world Saturday night. The Cosmos are champions of the North American Soccer League -- again.
The Cosmos capped a memorable and remarkable return to soccer, winning Soccer Bowl with a 1-0 victory over the Atlanta Silverbacks in the NASL championship game.
Former Spanish international Marcos Senna connected for the lone goal in the 50th minute as the Cosmos walked out of Silverbacks Park with their sixth NASL championship trophy and first since they last won Soccer Bowl in 1982. In that game, the late Giorgio Chinaglia scored in a 1-0 triumph over the Seattle Sounders and Brazilian great Carlos Alberto spearheaded the defense.
Those legends have been replaced by a younger generation of players who might not have the same reputation but have a similar desire to win. They turned the NASL upside down in the club's first season of competitive soccer since 1984. The Cosmos lost only once in 15 games (10-1-4) while securing the NASL fall season crown to meet the spring season winners, Atlanta, in the final.
"I am very proud of the guys," coach Giovanni Savarese said. "It was well deserved, this championship. They've done great throughout the season. They've worked very hard. It paid off today. For them against all odds, they did an amazing job."
Quite appropriately, the winner was scored by Senna, regarded by many as the league's best player. After a foul, Ayoze sent a 30-yard free kick on the left side that a defender headed out of the penalty area. The ball came to Senna, who lobbed an 18-yard shot from the right side into the upper far corner over goalkeeper Joe Nasco before a capacity crowd of 7,211.
"It was a moment of happiness," Senna said. "It summarizes the whole season."
Goalkeeper Kyle Reynish denied Shane Moroney from 8 yards in the 77th minute en route to the shutout.
When referee Edvin Jurisevic whistled the game over after five minutes of stoppage time, the Cosmos reserves rushed onto the field to congratulate their teammates. The team eventually went over to a small contingent of fans dressed in Cosmos green to celebrate with them.
It wasn't until the 13th minute that someone got a shot on goal as Silverbacks forward Brad Stisser fired a shot from the right side of the penalty area that Reynish went to the ground to save.
Three minutes later, forward Stefan Dimitrov had the Cosmos' first chance off Senna's feed, but his attempt went straight to Nasco.
Slowly but surely, the Cosmos took the initiative. In the 21st minute, they had two chances inside the Silverbacks' penalty area. Diomar Diaz fired wide on his attempt from the left side and Dimitrov, on a point-blank opportunity, sent his shot directly to Nasco.
Nasco saw more action several minutes later. After Sebastian Guenzatti blasted Hunter Freeman's pass over the crossbar in the 28th minute, Senna made the Atlanta keeper earn his salary as Nasco dived to his right to deny his 25-yard free kick.
Ayoze, overlapping from his left back position, played a nifty give-and-go with Dimitrov on the left side, but Paulo Mendes was unable to redirect the feed past Nasco in the 35th minute.