NEW YORK CITY — Soccer's World Cup isn’t until next summer, but the final of New York City’s amateur version of the competition kicks off Sunday afternoon at Randall’s Island.
The fifth annual Cosmos Copa, hosted by the New York Cosmos, features local “national” teams and highlights the diversity of New York City. What started as a 16-team competition in 2009 has grown to include 36 teams, including NYC France and NYC Senegal, squads that made it to Sunday's final, which kicks off at 2 p.m. at Icahn Stadium.
“This tournament is a fantastic idea because soccer is, by essence, the universal sport and because no other city in the world represents diversity and the melting pot” like New York, NYC France coach Zohair Ghenania said.
“That is the reason why we all chose to make this city our home. New York City is the perfect place for this event.”
Ghenania teaches AP economics and is the boys soccer coach at Lycee Francais de New York, a bilingual French English private school on the Upper East Side. His team is composed of eight college students, eight men who work in finance, one in real estate, one in fashion, one in entertainment and one who is the co-founder of a startup.
NYC France has competed in the tournament since its inception in 2009, but has not made the finals before. It beat NYC Greece 2-0 in the semifinals on a pair of goals by Sylvain Willot.
“Playing in the championship game this year is a great pride since 36 teams were competing at the beginning of the Cosmos Copa and because there was no easy game,” Ghenania said.
“It is obviously also a pride to represent France and to be in the final because we are a small community in comparison with other ones in New York City and we made it.”
NYC Senegal knocked off NYC Gambia, 1-0, in the other semifinal with Birahim Diop scoring the lone goal in the 29th minute. NYC Senegal reached the final in 2011, where they lost to Poland 3-1.
“We are eager to play Senegal because it is a fantastic team with a great coach and they are also French speakers, which is not convenient to give secret instructions to my players” Ghenania said.
The tournament is played like the World Cup with a qualifying round, a group stage, quarterfinals, semifinals and the final. Previous winners have included NYC Albania, NYC Poland — back-to-back title champs in 2010 and 2011— and NYC Haiti.
“Cosmos Copa is a wonderful tournament that truly brings together people from all corners of New York and all different backgrounds. You could only hold an event like this in New York, where you have more people from differing backgrounds than anywhere else in the world,” New York Cosmos Chief Operating Officer Erik Stover said.
“And it’s important that, as a professional team in this area, we take care of our community and give amateur players this opportunity to represent their countries.”