ATLANTA – New York Cosmos head coach Giovanni Savarese listened intently as his star player Marcos Senna addressed the media in Spanish after last Saturday’s Soccer Bowl win over the Atlanta Silverbacks.
An official from the North American Soccer League stood to the right of the stage, scribbling notes to relay to non-Spanish speaking reporters as Senna spoke for 35 seconds about his game-winning volley. The employee half-stepped toward the microphone when the 37-year-old player ended his response before pausing as Savarese slid the device back under his chin.
“It’s difficult for me to describe the goal, but what I can say is that there was a moment of happiness,” said Savarese on behalf of his veteran midfielder.
“It was a goal that had the whole team behind it, the coaching staff, the players,” Savarese continued. “The whole season we worked so hard that we deserved to be the champions tonight.
“That goal just summarized everything that we did during the season.”
The NASL official shrugged, acknowledging that his services as an interpreter were redundant as Savarese conveyed every detail that Senna had expressed. On the stage, the head coach raised his arm to affectionately pat Senna on the head. The appreciative player responded with a beaming smile and by placing an arm around Savarese’s back.
Savarese, a 42-year-old Venezuelan taking charge of his first professional team, lacks the prominence of experienced coaches such as Manuel Pellegrini, Luis Aragones and Vicente del Bosque who have previously instructed Senna. A mutual respect has clearly blossomed between the Cosmos coach and his world-class talent over the past four months that has driven the storied New York franchise to immediate glory since returning to the NASL.
Molding an aging superstar into a team of unheralded journeymen has been the downfall of many American soccer teams since Major League Soccer instituted the “Beckham Rule” for designated players in 2007. Los Angeles Galaxy missed the post-season play-offs during David Beckham’s first season and ended 2008 with the lowest points tally in the league.
The New York Red Bulls struggled for chemistry after signing Barcelona duo Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez in 2010. This year, Sigi Schmid’s efforts to carry the Seattle Sounders to the Supporters’ Shield nosedived after MLS headquarters foisted the $5 million-a-year United States national team captain Clint Dempsey upon him.
Senna’s humble integration into a locker room comprising unspectacular MLS stalwarts, a sprinkling of savvy players with European experience and a stack of younger hopefuls has prompted an unshakeable bond between the disparate Cosmos players.
“There’s no question that he has been the best player in this league,” Savarese told reporters before praising Senna’s influence on the field and in training.
“He’s been a great force for us this season, for sure.”
Few players in North America can match Senna’s impressive resume. The Sao Paulo native moved to Villarreal in 2002 and helped to establish the upstart club among Europe’s elite under Pellegrini. The Yellow Submarine finished third in La Liga during the 2004/05 season and were denied an all-Spanish Champions League final against Barcelona in 2006 after being edged by a single Arsenal goal over the two-legged semi-final.
Senna was granted Spanish citizenship in 2006 and he represented La Roja at that summer’s FIFA World Cup in Germany. His greatest triumph arrived two years later when he was named to UEFA’s Euro 2008 Team of the Tournament with five of his colleagues after Spain ended a 44-year wait for a major international trophy.
Spain’s victory capped a remarkable season for Senna that saw Villarreal reach a historic high – runner-up in La Liga behind Real Madrid and 10 points ahead of third-placed Barcelona. Injuries blighted his final years with the club and slowed his legs, but his soccer mind and dead ball skills remain as sharp as ever.
A late driven free-kick in Edmonton rescued a point for the Cosmos on Sept. 1, and Senna stroked a shot over the Tampa Bay Rowdies’ wall four weeks to cap a 4-3 win after New York had trailed 3-1 at half-time.
Another comeback victory at the San Antonio Scorpions on Oct. 27 was inspired by Senna’s 18-yard blast. That 2-1 win secured New York’s place in the Soccer Bowl. Two further strikes from penalty kicks saw Senna ending the fall season as his team’s joint-top scorer with five goals. His stunning winner in Atlanta edged him ahead of Venezuelan forward Diomar Diaz.
Senna returns to Villarreal’s El Madrigal Stadium Wednesday for a tribute game between the NASL champions and the club he served for 11 years, making a record 363 appearances in all competitions. The Cosmos took part in a similar game against Santos after Pele had led them to the 1977 Soccer Bowl crown, but this is no farewell game for the team’s latest Brazilian hero.
“Definitely I will play next year and hopefully for more years if my body feels good,” said Senna via his head coach and translator Savarese.
“I want to retire with the New York Cosmos.”
Nov. 12, 2013 — NASL Constantly Evaluating Season Structure, Says Commissioner
Nov. 7, 2013 — Sibling Rivalry Adds Subplot To NASL Soccer Bowl
Nov. 4, 2013 — Soccer Bowl The Next Step In Cosmos’ Journey Back To Summit