When people come to a new home they will all do the same thing: try to find aspects of home which they can incorporate into their new lives. This is true with sport, and very true with soccer. The New York Cosmos soccer organization exists in one of the most diverse cities in the world. With this in mind they promote a yearly tournament called the Cosmos Copa which tries to gather these differing cultures around soccer teams representing their former countries. I sat down at the New York Cosmos new SoHo headquarters with Sofia Sanchez, who has been working on the Copa since the beginning of the tournament when she was an intern, to get a look at how it came together, and what they hope to do for the communities they serve.
I asked Sofia how this tournament started and she replied “It was started in 2009 by two guys, one is named Spencer Dormitzer and one was Chris Noble. They were very much involved with the New York City soccer scene and they came up with this concept of a mini World Cup in the city. Because of the way the soccer scene is, with so many diverse communities, they thought this idea could take off.” I would have to agree, I’m actually surprised I haven’t heard of a tournament like this in other cities. Is there one in your city? Please comment below so we can talk about it.
The Cosmos bought the Copa tournament off Chris and Spencer because they want to build their team from the grassroots level up. The Cosmos of the past tried to build from the top down, signing Pele being the prime example, but soccer doesn’t work like that anymore. Sustained success requires either New York Yankee level unlimited funding, or a strong and developed base of players to draw from. The Copa is the Cosmos way of staying involved in the grassroots as they prepare for their first season in the new NASL in 2013. “It’s very much part of the plan moving forward to keep Copa going.” Sofia went on to say that it is also part of their long term plan to “have the final (of the Copa) played in whatever stadium we’re able to build.” Which would be an excellent opportunity for these young players to play in a professional stadium and really show off their skills.
With the success and growth of the tournament some teams began to feel that it was becoming too commercialized. That their communities were not being spoken to. Last years tournament was held entirely in Flushing Meadow. This year it is being held all over the city so that teams have the chance to play a ‘home game’ of sorts. Sofia explained why it changed this year: “For me it’s more about listening to the teams, they’re the ones who put in so much work. We run the tournament, but they’re the ones who are training, getting the guys there every weekend, who have to travel, it is a lot to ask. Especially for a tournament with no cash prize.” Wait, no cash prize? Why are they playing? “It is for community pride. That’s why the most important thing is to listen to them and the changes they want to make.”
Sofia went on to explain that the teams themselves also work towards building followings: “Some of them have a big presence in their community. Bolivia has an area in New Jersey that they’re based out of. They have a club there that they invite their fans to, they have a website. Argentina and Uruguay have community centers that they do barbeques at. We did viewing parties with the teams who were in The Euro’s this past year. Our interns also go out to Haitian barbershops and things like that and they’re surprised by how welcoming they are. I love sending my interns out into the communities.”
This last quote illustrates that last important gap being crossed which I aspire to examine in this soccer blog: when cultures gathered and comfortable with one another openly welcome those who are not part of their group. I believe that without these sort of structures, these gathering points of like minded individuals that soccer can attract, that our societies would be even more fragmented then they are. I do not mean only that the groups themselves would not exist and that would further fragment societies, I also say that without them we would eliminate the opportunity for connections to be made between those who are not like minded at all. A gathering place provides a focal point, for those inside and outside the group, to meet and discover one another in a comfortable social setting, rather than the all too uncommon random meeting on the street. Soccer, the world’s most popular sport, offers the greatest opportunity for these connections and that is why I believe that tournaments, like the culture gathering Cosmos Copa, are vital to continued societal development and progress.