THERE’S no escape from the crushing heat of the post-midday sun in Flushing Meadows but its patrons are carrying on regardless.
Less than a mile from where I’m standing, well over 30,000 baseball fans are watching the New York Mets lose against their arch-rivals, the Philadelphia Phillies. Closer again is the Arthur Ashe Stadium, patiently awaiting tennis’s next Grand Slam, the US Open.
The remaining 1,200 acres of parkland are bustling with activity: family barbecues, countless cricket games and football matches of wildly varying standard. Walk the winding paths and you’ll hear Trinidadian calypso boom through one set of speakers, battling valiantly with Mariachi folk songs.
Truly, all life is here.
It makes sense, therefore, that this vibrant slice of immigrant life is the heart of New York Cosmos country, their spiritual home in Queens.
Over on Field Eight, the third annual “Cosmos Copa”, bringing together 22 different nationalities, is playing out under an unforgiving sun.
The Kevin Grogan-coached Ireland-NYC have just lost their quarter-final clash against Mexico-NYC.
And he’s none too happy about it.
“Some of (the players) let me down, to be honest,” the Dublin-born former Manchester United prospect tells me, his head lowered as he attempts to make sense of what went down.
“Mexico weren’t tactically superior to us. It was hot, yeah, but it was the same for both sides. We beat ourselves. We didn’t play like an Irish team. We didn’t play with that burning desire.”
For a while on Sunday morning, I had envisioned clever sentences encompassing clichés about the High Noon kick-off and Mexican stand-offs.
But as I watched the representatives of the Irish community wilt in the heat and softly discard a 1-0 lead just before the break, all I could think of was Orlando in 1994, those killer blows either side of half-time.
I still see little Luis García canter away from a bedraggled Irish defence, arms stretched wide, celebrating a second strike, another daisy-cutter, unimpeded by a team-mate this time but displaying the same joy with which he’d celebrated the first, lording it over the Florida heat.
I still see bags of water, angry Aldridge and the very Irish suffering of Steve Staunton.
But then, jolted back into the present, Grogan’s men fall a further goal behind through a demoralising counter attack, one of those that arrive out of the blue, apparently sneering at the losing team’s attempts to push up and force an equaliser.
It ends 3-1 and when the dust settles, I get chatting to Vitus Feldmann on the sideline while I wait for the Irish dressing room to cool down a little. A Cosmos believer and former professional footballer in Germany, Feldmann is a former goalkeeping understudy at Cologne to one of football’s most famous brutes, Toni Schumacher.
Back when the tackle-from-behind was the staple diet of the centre back, the notorious West German number-one was a PR nightmare for his nation. During the 1982 World Cup semi-final, Schumacher’s GBH of French sub Patrick Battiston became part of football folklore.
Feldmann now operates as a football consultant (independent of the Cosmos) and is actively researching the viability of a second soccer club in the New York area.
“This is a huge city with a diverse population,” he tells me after I share my doubts about the Cosmos revival.
“Ask anyone in Germany, they know Cosmos. For them Red Bull is just a drink.”
And he’s right, in a way. The New York Red Bulls play in Jersey. It’s a long way from Brooklyn and Queens to the suburbs of Newark. There is indeed a massive market that the Cosmos could tap into.
And of course they have consistently played up their incredible history. Péle is on board and the January appointment of Eric Cantona as director of football caused a stir in England.
In just over two weeks, a Cantona-managed Cosmos XI will be in Old Trafford to give the retiring Paul Scholes a deserved send-off — no pun intended.
None of this matters a jot to Grogan though. He’s shattered and the only straw of comfort for him is that goalscorer Patrick Cregg, the former Arsenal and Falkirk player has used his trip to the US as an opportunity to check out FC Dallas of the MLS who are interested in his services.
“We’re allowed three overseas players,” explains Grogan when I express surprise. “Patrick is an excellent player and I’ve been encouraging him to give it a go over here. The training facilities, the lifestyle, the league. It’s a no-brainer. So he went to check them out and see if they’d be a good fit. He deserves the chance because he’s a great lad.”
As I prepare to leave, the best of what Haiti has to offer in New York takes to the field for a showdown with Senegal and then at the gate, I bump into several Polish fans, decked out in red and white. Their game is next. Maybe Herr Feldmann is right. The whole world is right here and the Cosmos might just be the team to conquer it.
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