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Cosmos steal Valencia’s thunder in Regina

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It’s all about context.

If you put about 15,000 people into a large football stadium in a place like Toronto or Montreal for an international soccer exhibition, we’d all be talking about poor ticket sales and how the North American public is losing its collective appetite for the summer friendly.

But, put the game in Regina, in the brand-new Mosaic Stadium, and the context changes. As part of Saturday’s officially named Soccer Day in Saskatchewan, with plans now in full motion to put a Canadian Premier League team in the province, the game between the New York Cosmos and Valencia took on a very different meaning.

Getting about 15K (a guesstimate; the official attendance wasn’t announced) in a market that has long been ignored by the pro soccer world, well that’s a building block.  

We’re now talking about Saskatchewan being an underserved market that could be a gem for a Canadian pro league. We’re talking about a city that rolled out the red carpet for two foreign teams. We’re talking about a vibe in a stadium that felt like one big party for the better part of two hours.


Match MVP Juan Guerra

As a contest, it wasn’t all that close. A Cosmos side missing a lot of starters to injury  beat the La Liga side 2-0 but, it actually could have been more.

Eric Calvillo, the former American youth soccer standout who scored the winner against FC Edmonton last week, well he must like Western Canada quite a bit. He patiently outwaited a Valancia defender at the top of the box and slammed a shot into the corner of the goal.

New York’s Emmanuel Ledesma put the game out of sight, hammering home a rebound after Valencia’s keeper, Neto, stoned Eugene Starikov’s initial attempt.

Starikov came oh so close to opening the scoring in the first half. He turned Valencia defender Ayben Abdennour inside out and then ripped a shot off the underside of the bar — but the ball stayed out.

The fans may have come to be impressed by the likes of Valencia stars Simone Zaza (who started) and Alvaro Negredo (who came on later in the game), but it was clear midway through the first half that it was the Cosmos, not the team from Spain, that was more committed to putting on a show for the Regina fans.

“It was beautiful to come to this beautiful city,” said man of the match, Juan Guerra. “The people, the support, this kind of event — we’re hoping to come back. Also, we just tried to implement what we’ve been  working on over the last week.”

For the Cosmos, it’s been a long couple of weeks. They travelled to Edmonton for their NASL spring-season finale last weekend, then went back to New York, then basically mimicked the Edmonton flight with the trip to Regina. (About four hours, non-stop). Cosmos coach Giovanni Savarese said his players deserved credit for winning both games, and he said he understood that these friendlies take what could have been break time away from the players. They get less time with their families, but they do what they have to in order to represent the sport and the club well.

“It’s been fantastic for us to be here,” he said. “We’re very privileged to have been invited to play in front of this beautiful crowd in this beautiful city.”

Removing the football lines… not a smashing success.

The bad: The attempt to remove the football lines was, how to put it, less than successful. The football lines are sewn into the new turf surface at Mosaic, so you don’t really remove them — you paint over them. But the paint only served to transform the white football lines to yellow football lines — and, considering the soccer lines were yellow, well you could argue that the poor paint job actually made things more confusing.

As well, I was told that the new turf had not settled yet, and was very bouncy and uneven. If CanPL comes to Saskatchewan, chances are that games won’t be played on Mosaic’s turf — but lessons do need to be learned if the stadium wants to host soccer friendlies in the future, or any sort of Canadian national-team match.

Savarese said that, while he’d much prefer his team to play on grass, the surface was “the same for both teams.” And he said in the spirit of the day, with the fans in the stands, that’s what we should all be focusing on.

Sounds like a good last word to me.


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