Marcos Senna talks New York Cosmos, NASL growth, Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Lionel Messi and more ahead of NASL Soccer Bowl

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In their first season back as a pro soccer club, the New York Cosmos are on the verge of winning the NASL title.

Not bad.

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.

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During his days with Villarreal, Senna drove his team onto success in La Liga, the UEFA Champions League and won many admirers.

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.

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Senna has become an instant hero for the Cosmos as their resurgence continues.

“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.”

Giovinco strikes twice to lift Toronto FC to Canadian Championship (video)

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Sebastian Giovinco scored twice including in stoppage time as Toronto FC overcame Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla’s fantastic strike to win 2-1 in the second leg of the Canadian Championship at BMO Field on Tuesday.

TFC held the advantage after a 1-1 first leg in Montreal. The Reds advance to the CONCACAF Champions League.

Tabla, who just turned 18 in March, is an Ivorian-born Canadian youth international who now has four senior goals for the Impact.

Montreal veteran Patrice Bernier saw red in the 89th minute, putting the Impact’s chances behind the 8-ball.

[ MORE: USMNT Gold Cup questions ]

Toronto FC entered the match with a road goal advantage, which was undone in the quick flash of a left-foot, as Tabla dug a ball from underneath him and past a flying Clint Irwin to make it 2-1 on aggregate.

The goal was a double whammy for Toronto, which went to the break knowing it would need to score twice (or win in penalty kicks) to advance to the CONCACAF Champions League.

Yet TFC came back after a horrendous pass from Montreal, as Michael Bradley pinged a gorgeous diagonal ball to Sebastian Giovinco. The Atomic Ant recovered from a tough opening touch to bury his chance. 1-1.

And, oh yeah, watch this man work for his second…

Who is Kenny Saief, and other USMNT Gold Cup personnel questions

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Kenny Saief is an 23-year-old American left-sided player with UEFA Champions League experience.

So why do we know so little about the Miami-born man?

The answer is pretty straight-forward: Saief’s entire career has been under-the-radar. After coming up through a series of Israeli teams, he moved to KAA Gent in Belgium. None of those matches, even adding in his representing the full Israel national team twice, got a ton of play on American soil.

[ MORE: Saul scores stunner for Spain U-21s ]

So when Saief filed his one-time switch to represent the United States, paving the way for a USMNT call-up for this summer’s Gold Cup, even those of us who’d followed his career from afar had put a limited amount of actual observation on match footage.

So here’s the long-and-short:

  • Saief turns 24 in December.
  • He moved to Gent from Israeli second tier side¬†Ramat haSharon¬†in 2014.
  • Played a total of 35 minutes in friendlies versus Serbia and Croatia.
  • Saief has 20 total appearances between the Europa and Champions Leagues.
  • Posted a UCL assist versus Wolfsburg in the 2015-16 Round of 16.
  • Had goal, 2 assists in UEL this season, played 180 mins vs. Spurs.
  • Has 15 goals, 9 assists in 107 apps for Gent.

Saief should get an opportunity to make an impact for Bruce Arena’s USMNT, perhaps as soon as Saturday’s friendly against Ghana in East Hartford.

Who else stands a chance to gain the most from this tournament?

Joe Corona —¬†The 26-year-old made his thirst-inducing name in American soccer circles by scoring a pair of goals in the 2013 Gold Cup, but has just 17 caps to his name. His call-up over veterans like Benny Feilhaber and Sacha Kljestan either shows how high he’s risen or how far those veterans have fallen.

Cristian Roldan —¬†Seattle’s hard-nosed midfielder was playing college ball at Washington just three years ago, and it’s not crazy to think strong performances could boost him onto the radar of bigger clubs abroad (let alone make him a mainstay along Kellyn Acosta with the USMNT).

Dom Dwyer —¬†If Roldan’s rise is surprising, Dwyer’s really is astounding. It’s easy to forget that the Sporting KC star forward was playing¬†junior college soccer in 2010 before spending one season of Division I soccer with South Florida. Now he has 57 MLS goals and a look at becoming the clinical finisher the American side has wanted for some time.

Justin Morrow¬†and¬†Eric Lichaj —¬†The 29- and 28-year-old fullbacks would love to prove their mettle is as good if not better than Jorge Villafana, the current front-runner to start at left back should the Yanks complete their revitalized run to the World Cup. Lichaj, a Nottingham Forest veteran, is also adept at right back.

This isn’t to say that Juan Agudelo and Kelyn Rowe won’t benefit from strong tournaments, but the names above have either been rescued from soccer’s scrap heap or at least Jurgen Klinsmann’s prison.

PODCAST: Bob Bradley talks MLS past, USMNT

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Scott Nicholls and Otis Earle welcomed Bob Bradley to their “Beyond The Pitch” podcast to discuss his time coaching the Chicago Fire, the Fire’s current squad, how MLS has evolved, the new generation of players coming into the USMNT and more.

Perhaps most interesting is Bradley talking about previous losses with stinging emotion that sounds like they happened yesterday, including the 2000 MLS Cup.

[ MORE: Latest Men In Blazers pod ]

Since being fired from Swansea City after less than 100 days, Bradley has been linked with the Norway national team gig as well as a return to Los Angeles. Keep up with the U.S. coach here, and check out the podcast here:

U.S. Open Cup preview: Which underdog has best odds?

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Every dog has its day, and the three lower-tier clubs remaining in the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup are hoping for a second.

Miami FC, Sacramento Republic, and FC Cincinnati enjoyed wins over Major League Soccer sides in the fourth round, and now get further MLS tests in this week’s fifth round.

[ MORE: Lampard linked with manager opening ]

Once FC Dallas and Colorado Rapids tangle on Tuesday, attention turns to the underdogs on Wednesday. Who has the best chance to advance?

  1. Miami FC vs. Atlanta United — Playing an MLS expansion side at¬†Riccardo Silva Stadium will give Miami a bit of confidence, and this is also a side with some good experience in pressure spots. Whether it’s manager Alessandro Nesta or MLS vets Michel, Gabriel Farfan, and Michael Lahoud, MFC won’t shy away. Upset chance:¬†Solid.
  2. FC Cincinnati¬†vs. Chicago Fire —¬†The visitors are having a heck of a season in MLS and don’t have a group which will be worried by a huge crowd, but there’s no debating that 25,000-plus in Southern Ohio give FCC more than a puncher’s chance.¬†Upset chance:¬†Improbable, but possible
  3. LA Galaxy vs.¬†Sacramento Republic —¬†If LA puts something close to its best side out there, Sacramento will struggle to stop its attack.¬†¬†Upset chance:¬†Long shot.

Elsewhere on Wednesday, New England hosts DC United, Philadelphia visits the Red Bulls, Seattle is off to San Jose, and Houston hosts Sporting KC.