FLUSHING MEADOWS, N.Y. – Poland may not have qualified for South Africa this summer, but in New York’s Flushing Meadows Park, hundreds of White Eagles fans had something to cheer about on Sunday.
On an overcast afternoon in Queens in front of thousands of cheering fans, players and curious passers-by, Team Poland NYC defeated Team NYC Jamaica to lift the Mayor’s Cup and win the 2010 Copa NYC.
Led by former Red Bulls reserve forward and Copa NYC Golden Boot winner Chris Karcz, Poland defeated the local incarnation of the Reggae Boyz 5-4 on PKs after the two sides were tied 3-3 following 90 minutes of regulation and two 15-minute periods of overtime.
You’d be forgiven if you had never heard of Copa NYC until now. The fledgling tournament acts as sort of a micro-World Cup for New York’s ethnic communities, as teams comprising local residents represent their country of origin or their heritage (the tournament’s rules for “national team” eligibility are a little looser than FIFA’s) and features all of the passion and pageantry of the event after which it’s modeled.
This year, 22 nations were represented in the competition’s second incarnation (Albania were the victors in the inaugural tournament in 2009).
In addition to all the soccer on the field and songs from the supporters in the stands, the other big attraction at this year’s final was the presence of the one and only Pelé.
With former New York Cosmos running mates Carlos Alberto and Giorgio Chinaglia on hand, the Brazilian legend and global icon announced the formation of the Cosmos Academy, a new partnership with well-known, Queens-based youth club BW Gottschee that will provide free tuition to all players who are admitted to the standout program.
“This is great for the club, for the kids, for the city of New York,” said John Benintendo, a Gottschee administrator and former coach. “The way the [youth] system is set up, with the better leagues, you have to pay to play. Now there’s no more money involved.
“The money is covered now with the New York Cosmos taking over Gottschee. Now we get the best American kids to come up, we get the kids that we’ve been missing. It’s not capital-driven anymore.”
The Cosmos, who are now headed up by former Tottenham Hotspur director Paul Kemsley as Chairman, CEO Carl Johnson and former David Beckham associate Terry Byrne as director of football, also announced their acquisition of the Copa NYC tournament and plans to expand the event both domestically and internationally.
“Every city should have something like this,” said Michael Dugger of Brooklyn, “some way to marry the international game with their hometown.”
Regardless of whether your nation’s odds of lifting the trophy are as long as they are of lifting the World Cup, the Copa NYC final is a unique event and should be experienced by anyone with the means to do so. It may be a uniquely New York event, but the good feeling it brings to all involved is universal.
“This was my first time, but it was a fun time,” said Dugger. “Is there a better way to spend Sunday in the city than soccer in the park and with Pelé?”