Marcos Senna Retrospective, Pt. III: An Unforgettable 2013 Season

IMAGE, NYCOSMOS.COM
[colored_box color=”green”]Beloved New York Cosmos midfielder and Villarreal legend Marcos Senna is counting down the days to the end of his illustrious career.
As the countdown continues, Empire of Soccer will chronicle his time in New York with the ‘Marcos Senna, Retrospective’ series — a look at Senna’s Cosmos career through the eyes of the player, based on exclusive one-on-one interviews with EoS.
This week, we pick up where we left off: Senna’s first season with the Cosmos.[/colored_box]

by DAVE MARTINEZ

With his new contract signed, the house hunting over, the press conferences done and preseason in the rear view, New York Cosmos star Marcos Senna was finally ready to take the pitch.

The date had long been circled on his calendar: August 3rd, 2013. The home opener. A then-record 11,929 fans eagerly awaited the “reboot” of the storied Cosmos franchise in the confines of Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium — a place the original club once called home. Pele was on hand for the pregame festivities. Media crowded in a packed perch three stories above the field. Cameras flashed from all angles to kick off the festivities.

Truly, this was a special event — and Senna was just as nervous as anyone else about the start of this new, strange journey through the NASL.

“I had the same anxious feelings as my teammates. It was something new for me too. I never met Pele. It was another league, country and culture,” Senna tells EoS. “From the beginning, everything was new to me. Getting to know the country, a new league after 11 years in Spain with Villarreal, I lived everything like a child in a new world. The anxiety youngsters had to debut, I also had. With Pele, a new league, the Cosmos, New York — those were the first steps.”

The match played out in memorable fashion. Both the Strikers and Cosmos played an open, flowing style — not what one would expect from a New York side that only began training in full for the better part of six weeks. Peri Marosevic nailed the first goal in the 44th minute, sending the Uniondale crowd into a frenzy. Future Cosmos midfielder Walter Restrepo tied the match midway through the second half before now-former Cosmo Alessandro Noselli put the match away with a stoppage time finish.

“I remember every moment of that day, before and after that match — which is something, since I have a bad memory!” Senna said with a smile. “But I remember everything. The anxiety. The beauty of that first match. The happiness we shared …Noselli found goal with his back towards the net. It was something special. It was a spectacle; winning at home, Pele, the first match, suffering for the win. It was unforgettable.”

The victory closed a chapter on the introduction phase of the Cosmos in the best light possible. It was a dream start against a heritage opponent, which was exactly the type of result the team was looking for. “We were thrilled [in the lockerroom]. Everybody, especially the coach [Giovanni Savarese], understood the importance of starting on a winning foot and what it meant to all of us. It was the comeback of the Cosmos after several years and to bring young players with a mix of veterans to the fold, we didn’t know if it would click, but it did — and it wasn’t easy.

“It looks easy, but it wasn’t.”

Such a win must have gassed the Cosmos’ expectations to start the campaign, but just as they were riding high after their debut, New York were slapped back down to earth by week two. First, they traveled to Tampa Bay to face another heritage rival, the Rowdies, suffering a listless 0-0 draw in front of 7,032 fans at Al Lang Stadium. They went on to endure torrential conditions against the Carolina Railhawks, falling to frustration and impotence in a 3-0 loss that saw both Sebastian Guenzatti and Joseph Nane hit with red cards.

It was a crushing blow to the team’s opening day gains, but also an invaluable lesson on the quality of the league and the competition ahead.

In other words, this NASL thing was not going to be easy.

“Even if the competition isn’t the same as the Spanish league, it is difficult. It was hard adapting — just as much for myself as the rest of the club,” Senna noted. “I came prepared. I looked into the league before I came so I knew what to expect. I also wasn’t expecting large crowds. I was mostly concentrated in playing and enjoying it. I wasn’t saying to myself ‘Oh no, the stadiums aren’t full, there isn’t a lot of media.’ I wasn’t surprised by any of it. I knew it all coming in.”

Slowly, the Cosmos regained their footing. A home fixture against the San Antonio Scorpions leveled their record to 2-1-1. As the team struggled to find consistency, Senna continued settling into the club. He became quick friends with Ayoze, Roversio, Carlos Mendes and others, bonding with many of the club’s Spanish speaking players. But for as much comfort as he was finding in his new surroundings, Senna was still off the scoresheet; something that weighed on the mind of the 36-year-old veteran.

He didn’t have to wait much longer to break through. In just his fifth match with the club, Senna managed the game-tying goal against Edmonton on a penalty kick, breaking his scoreless drought and building on the Cosmos gains against the Scorpions. “It was special for me. I was wondering when I was going to get my first goal. I was getting anxious!” he said. “Once I scored, I felt a weight was lifted off of my shoulders.”

It certainly showed. The Brazilian born playmaker began a run that saw him score three in five matches, including an unforgettable game winner against the Tampa Bay Rowdies during a raucous 4-3 win at Shuart Stadium. “We turned the score around to 4-3 after being down 3-1. I scored the fourth goal off a dead ball,” Senna recalled. “That was the [regular season] match I remember most.”

As Senna heated up, so did the Cosmos. Taking a general’s role in the midfield, the Spanish international led the club through an impressive stretch of seven victories in the team’s final eight matches of the year. That was enough to propel them to the improbable: a Soccer Bowl showdown against the Fall Season champions, Atlanta Silverbacks.

“I came here with the idea to be a champion,” Senna explained. “I started to see we could do something big and go for the title. You dream big and you get to your goal, always with a lot of work and with the right mentality.

“Today, I feel the same way,” he continued. “I still think we can win the league. Since I came here, I have thought the same way.”

Dozens of traveling Cosmos fans descended on Atlanta’s Silverbacks Park, creating a fervent atmosphere within the low-key surroundings of the host stadium. Like his debut, Senna felt anxious about the encounter. That anxious feeling was only magnified by a little-known injury Senna suffered in the run-up to the final. A bum ankle suffered against the San Antonio Scorpions just two weeks prior to the Soccer Bowl showdown put a major question mark on his participation, let alone his coming performance. He sat out against the Silverbacks in the final fixture of the regular season to concentrate on the Final, hoping that time would be kind on his injury.

Senna made the starting XI against Atlanta in the Soccer Bowl, but was noticeably out of tune. In fact, the entire Cosmos team looked timid in comparison to the side that had taken the league by storm that Fall.

Bum ankle or not, New York was desperate for a hero, and Senna once again stepped up to lead the way. Despite his ankle woes, the legendary Villarreal maestro managed to power through the pain in perhaps the single, most unforgettable moment of his Cosmos career, taking a one-touch blast from 25 yards out and placing a picture-perfect strike on net, beating Joe Nasco to the punch and netting New York the eventual game winner.

“I celebrated that win like we had won the Euro Cup. There was no difference,” he said. “And the feeling was incredible, putting in the winning goal, looking at the faces of happiness among my teammates and the fans – the Cosmos after 30 years coming back and winning the Cup!

“Looking back at that, you wonder ‘can you make a goal from that distance?’ With a lot of sacrifice and a lot of hope, I was able to battle through and score a beautiful, important goal,” he continued. “It was incredible. I can’t take away from the fact that the league is a second division. The experience was unbelievable.”

And the ensuing celebration only further put the stamp on the Cosmos magical season. As was the case in Pele’s final NASL season some thirty years prior, Senna was carried off the field on the shoulders of both fans and teammates alike.

“Imagine that! Things went so perfectly, we didn’t even think of celebrating it that way, like Pele did in his NASL Championship,” Senna recalled with a laugh. “There is no comparison with Pele of course, but at the very least, not to imitate, but to celebrate the championship in such a similar way was great.”

Senna would take another unintended page out of Pele’s American journey days later. Villarreal hosted a testimonial match, pitting the Cosmos against the Yellow Submarine in Spain. Like Pele, who left New York after a testimonial against his beloved club team Santos at Giants Stadium, Senna played a half for both teams, lending a storybook ending to a storybook season for the beloved Villarreal legend — and budding Cosmos icon.

“If you ask me ‘Marcos, what more can you ask for in football?’ I would say I ask God to keep me healthy, to protect me the rest of the way and to keep enjoying the game. I consider myself privileged to have played in big leagues, starting in Brazil, then Europe, with all the competitions I have played, including the Euro Cup. I didn’t have my nationality set, but I played the Euro Cup and won, the World Cup, even the NASL Championship,” Senna said. “Few players have had this experiences and I just thank God for those moments. I am really privileged to have lived these experiences.”

[colored_box color=”green”]For More On The Marcos Senna Retrospective, Take A Look At Part I and II:

PART I: How Senna Joined The Cosmos

PART II: Coming To America [/colored_box]

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