Flushing Meadows, Queens - The Cosmos Copa NYC 2011 tournament has become a set of weekends where for a few teams, the dream of hoisting the Cosmos Copa are still alive. While for the majority, their dreams have turned into nightmares as they're officially eliminated from the tournament.
After Sunday's quarterfinal action, we're down to four teams. In a tournament which featured 30 teams, Poland, Senegal, England and Mexico are the final four Cosmos Copa teams. Before I address next Saturday's semifinal matches, here's a recap of Sunday's action.
Defending Cosmos Copa Champions NYC Poland continued in their path to successfully defend their championship as they defeated NYC Greece 3-0. Despite NYC Greece's valiant effort, NYC Poland was simply too much for them, as they patiently and methodically wore down their opponents.
For a team that may not be the flashiest in the Cosmos Copa, NYC Poland is in excellent position to become the first team in the Copa's young history to return to the championship match for the second consecutive year, possibly retaining their Cosmos Cup. The defending champions will now face NYC England, which defeated last year's runner-up, NYC Jamaica, 2-1.
If you haven't been following the Cosmos Copa on a regular basis, NYC England over NYC Jamaica was not an upset, just to be clear. Prior to their match against NYC Jamaica, the English team has scored a total of 10 goals in their previous three victories. While the Jamaican team may have very well been one of the most athletic teams in the tournament, they haven't been able to capitalize on their athleticism, as their struggle from last week carried over into Sunday's match.
Despite moving the ball well and with confidence, NYC Jamaica's difficulty in finding the back of the net has haunted them. During last Saturday's Group A matches, Jamaica produced five goals in their victories against Ecuador, Trinidad & Tobago, and their 1-1 draw against Senegal.
Against England, their ability to produce missed opportunities instead of goals finally caught up with them, as NYC England rallied to eliminate this heavily favored Jamaican team.
While NYC Poland continues to defend their championship and NYC England has demonstrated their ability to deceptively score goals with their passive-aggressive style of soccer, NYC Senegal may be the team that's having the most fun in the tournament.
In their match against another high-scoring team, NYC Haiti, NYC Senegal simply dismantled their opponents physically and mentally as they cruised to a 7-2 victory. Considering that NYC Haiti produced eight goals in their Group B matches, this was shocking. While many of us anticipated a high-scoring match, we didn't expect Sunday's match to be a one-sided affair.
Following the win, NYC Senegal is two wins away from becoming the first African team to win the Cosmos Copa. In order to reach the championship match, they will have to defeat NYC Mexico in their semifinal match next Saturday.
To be honest, prior to NYC Mexico's first group stage match against defending champions NYC Poland, I had no idea what to expect from the Mexican team. The only thing I knew is that they were training and getting ready to make a run in the tournament. While the other Latino Copa teams were more accessible, reaching NYC Mexico was no easy task.
Even though the team was very private about their matters, Team President Roberto Sosa was more than professional with me as he would always take a moment to chat with me. I clearly understood the team was not going to be humiliated as they were last year when NYC Ireland ousted them from the tournament in a 6-1 loss.
In their opening match against NYC Poland, one incident convinced me that NYC Mexico will be a force to be reckoned with.
Having played my share of soccer matches against other Latinos at Van Cortland Park and Flushing Meadows in NYC to the south side of Tucson, AZ, and East L.A., I learned at a young age if someone tried to bully, you slapped your opposition hard enough that they'll understand you'll have no reservation in throwing down if they continued to bully you.
In the case of the Poland and Mexico match, one of the Polish players made the mistake of trying to intimidate Edgar Aguilar when he jerked the ball in his chest. Aguilar retaliated in the same manner many of us Latinos have in the past. He physically made his point that he and his teammates will not be bullied by anyone.
It was at that moment that I explained to fellow reporter Chris Dobens of TotalFootblog.com that Mexico is for real. They proved me right when they battled the defending champions to a 2-2 draw. Following the draw, Mexico won their next two matches to set up their showdown with NYC Ireland.
Sunday's match between NYC Mexico and NYC Ireland was the match I've been salivating for for over a week. While I have a lot of respect for NYC Ireland, I knew NYC Mexico was going to win in what many would consider an upset.
From the very beginning, I've been honest about wanting to see a Latino Copa team hoist the Cosmos Cup in this year's tournament. And after last Saturday's elimination of Ecuador, Colombia and El Salvador, Mexico was the only team representing Latin America.
Here's a little history lesson. The Irish community is considered our brothers and sisters in Latin America. In Mexico, they annually honor the Irish soldiers of St. Patrick's Battalion for fighting bravely alongside Mexico during the Mexican-American War.
While NYC Ireland is exactly how a Cosmos Copa team should conduct themselves with their professionalism, I was sure that they would play a good first half but that Mexico was going to gain the upper hand when Ireland least expected it.
Both teams brought their fans and entertained us with their match. Ireland dominated the first half and led 1-0 until Mexico scored two lightning goals in less than three minutes to take a 2-1 halftime lead.
In the second half, Mexico's goalkeeper Juan Cruz's excellent play was able to prevent Ireland from scoring again.
Complementing Cruz was Miguel Martinez. His speed and ball-handling abilities would force his defenders to appear as if they were dancing, as he consistently advanced the ball at will. Despite the numerous attempt to tie the game, Sunday's match simply belonged to NYC Mexico, as they were able to produce another goal for a 3-1 victory.
Following their tremendous win over NYC Ireland, I had a pleasant time talking with the team. Team President Sosa and Coach Fabian Calderon understand that while they represent the Mexican community, they're also representing the entire Latin American community.
The players feel the same way. While they're proud of Sunday's win, they understand they have a couple of matches to play in their quest of becoming the first Latino Team to lift the Cosmos Cup. They were very candid about the team's philosophy that winning the Cosmos Copa will give them the respect they're due while erasing any doubts of how good their team is.
After watching all four of their matches and my relationship with the team all I can say is: Si se puede!
To follow NYC Mexico: http://cosmoscopa.com/
Cesar Diaz covers Soccer for LatinoSports.com. He also writes for 5 Points Press & USSoccerPlayers.com ; your source for American Soccer news brought to you by members of the U.S. National Team. Easily accessible, you may reach Cesar at firstname.lastname@example.org and at Twitter at @CoveringSoccer.