The group stages of the 2011 edition of Cosmos Copa begin today at Corona Park Fields in Flushing Meadows, Queens. Last week, qualifiers took place to fill out the field. Here is a first hand account of the most thrilling of those matches, an epic showdown between NYC Colomobia and NYC Japa, decided in the end by a penalty shootout.
Cosmos Copa’s Spencer Dormitzer gives us some background on the teams involved before taking us through the match. The video above was shot and edited by Chris Noble.
Under new team president Kenichi (Kenni) Yatsuhashi, NYC Japan have been re-developing the team after last year’s dismal 2010 campaign, where they were outclassed in the group stage. Yatsuhashio worked overtime recruiting, training, and getting attention for the team back in their homeland (you can find letters of support from 2 former national team coaches and a legendary striker from the 70′s on their official team page for Cosmos Copa). NYC Japan put together an aggressive friendly schedule after the qualifying draw pitted them up against a very talented NYC Colombia team. The results from these friendlies left them with varying degrees of confidence. More importantly, NYC Japan were always playing in awareness of the tragedy back home for inspiration. They participated in charities and fundraisers throughout the spring and summer for the cause.
After taking a year off from Cosmos Copa, NYC Colombia set their sights on dominance in 2011. President Guillermo Lillo (known as “Lillo” in the Hispanic soccer community), a veteran referee and league organizer, assembled a lethal squad of youth and experience (with many ex-professionals on his roster) led by inspirational leader Andres Estrada, former Colombian international midfielder who appeared in the 1998 World Cup. They bossed every team they played in friendlies and had every team in Cosmos Copa intimidated.
This qualifier between NYC Colombia and NYC Japan embodies what this tournament is all about. The love of the game and the pride the teams have for representing their communities shows why soccer is the world’s game.
Here’s Spencer’s retelling of the match itself.
This match was the last of the day as some of the participating teams wandered over to watch. There were several japanese fans (about 75) with signs and a TV crew doing interviews and covering the game as well. NYC Colombia brought less fans, mostly family making the trek from Queens, where most of the Colombian population reside. NYC Japan gave a rousing chant of their national anthem, led by President Kenni.
The match started and NYC Colombia took possession quickly and played a patient, build-up tactical match. NYC japan on the other hand, absorbed the pressure and started to look very deadly on the counter attack. Stand out striker for NYC Japan, Adam Himeno, a 4 year star at St. Johns, were giving the NYC Colombia defense fits. Possession seemed to mean nothing to the Japanese team and almost were rewarded in the 1st 10 minutes when they hit the cross bar! in the 25th minute, NYC Japan and their star player Himeno put the team ahead 1-0 with a lethal counter attack. That is how the 1st half ended.
By the start of the 2nd half, a crowd started to formulate around the parade grounds, due to the quality of the match, going from 100, to 200, and growing by the minute. each team were exceeding their already amazing talents and bringing a real show to Brooklyn! NYC Colombia, with time winding down, were applying a massive amount of pressure, but NYC Japan were still withstanding.
With under 10 minutes to go in regulation, a NYC Colombia set piece created a deserving, yet unattractive equalizer, 1-1. Regulation ended with this result and penalties would decide the winner of this match.
The crowd grew organically to over 300 fans, with many watching from the adjoining sidewalk along the field. The atmosphere was electric and the pressure was palpable.
NYC japan’s captain, Zin Mora, stepped up to take a sudden death penalty, which was saved. NYC Colombia quickly converted the next PK and they were elated!
As NYC Colombia celebrated, The NYC Japan team were inconsolable, especially the captain, Zin. Months of training and preparing for this match left them with nothing to show for it on the day. Even worse, they were carrying the pain of their homeland on their shoulders. As the team collectively wept, applause came from the large crowd that assembled. The noise grew louder and louder as the NYC Japan Team came closer to the fence that divided them. The team took a bow, in unity and respect for the gratitude they have shown them.
Many NYC Colombia players told us that this was one of the greatest games they have played in. This, coming from some players who have played in front of thousands professionally. NYC Colombia now live to fight another day and are favorites to progress far in the 2011 Cosmos Copa Tournament. We believe that they are also playing for their newly found adopted brothers, NYC Japan.
It was a very special moment on a park field in Brooklyn and a testament to the power of Cosmos Copa.