In their first season back as a pro soccer club, the New York Cosmos are on the verge of winning the NASL title.
But there’s one problem, the Atlanta Silverbacks stand in their way. The NASL Soccer Bowl takes place in Atlanta, Georgia on Saturday evening (7:30pm ET, watch live on NASL website) as the entire season comes down to the one-off game between the spring and fall champions as Atlanata has home field advantage.
Both teams have gone quite some time since lifting the title as the last team to win the crown from the city of Atlanta was the Chiefs back in 1968, while the Cosmos have six NASL titles to their name and last prevailed in 1982.
Whoever takes this crown, it’s sure to be a nerve-wracking night for the players, management and fans of both the Silverbacks and the newly re-formed Cosmos.
One player who won’t be feeling too nervous is European Championsip winning midfielder Marcos Senna, who represented Spain at international level for many years and was a pivotal part of Villarreal’s rise through the leagues to become a giant in Spanish soccer and shine in the Champions League.
The 37-year-old is calmness personified on the pitch and he’s even scored five goals and added two assists this season. Not bad for 13 games as a veteran holding midfielder in the fall NASL seasons as he was named to the league’s Best XI earlier on Friday.
Following his first season in the USA, Senna spoke to ProSoccerTalk ahead of the final. In 2013 he’s taken the second tier of U.S. soccer by storm to help lead the New York Cosmos one game away from lifting the NASL crown. He’s delighted to be part of the burgeoning club and to help the younger players develop.
“Obviously being here as a team leader, for me it’s very pleasant,” Senna said. “All the experience that I have playing professional soccer, I try to pass it on to the younger guys who always try to do their best in everything. I am looking forward to finishing this year and playing next year too”
Senna also laughed at his goalscoring exploits.
“In all of my years as a soccer player I’m not usually a goalscorer!” Senna said. “But I’m very happy to help the team out and contribute in any way I can.”
It seems as though his help has rubbed off on plenty of the other Cosmos players, something 23-year-old Venezuelan attacker Diomar Diaz agrees with. He believes the experience Senna has brought to the team has been crucial in helping New York to reach the final and at the same time help the younger players develop.
“Obviously playing with Senna, it is an honor,” Diaz said. “He has some much experience and shares that with the youngsters, such as myself. He speaks with us about how to be on the field, how to manage the games and he talks to us a lot. It’s just an honor being part of this team and playing for the Cosmos with Senna.”
The Brazilian born midfielder, who became a household name across Europe for his terrific displays in the holding role during Villarreal’s rise, spoke of his affection for NASL and is already aiming for next seasons title.
“I like playing in this league,” Senna said. “It’s very good and a competitive league and I’m just looking forward for next season and to finishing top.”
If the Cosmos win the NASL title in just their first season back in the league and after starting from scratch it would be some achievement. But would it also send out a message to the rest of the world that they’re back? Senna’s not so sure.
“We’re not really trying to send a message, the team is already well known,” Senna said. “Even though I would be really happy if we won the title, it’s not really sending a message out to the world that the Cosmos are back.”
And of course, I couldn’t let the former La Liga star go without asking him about the same question that crops up all over the globe. Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi?
Having played against both during his days with Villarreal and knowing just how good they are up close and personal, the former Spanish international has nothing but respect for both Ronaldo and Messi.
“I don’t like to compare players,” Senna said. “Obviously they play very different styles of soccer Messi and Ronaldo. And of course they both play for different teams, but if I was a fan of either team I would choose Messi or Ronaldo. It’s been a privilege playing against them. It was certainly very difficult and very hard to play against them.”