Kicking and singing at city ‘World Cup’

The Argentinean team was, without question, the loudest. Their drumming, whistling and chanting floated across two soccer fields in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park on Saturday, July 25, mingling mid-air with a cacophony of Korean, Albanian, Greek and Jamaican-accented English.

In the distance, the mid-summer sun glinted off the Unisphere, which, at the inaugural Copa N.Y.C. soccer tournament – created to unite the scores of ethnic soccer enclaves across New York – seemed a superfluous reminder of the city’s global diversity.

In all, 16 nations were represented in the park that day, each vying for the “Mayor’s Cup” – the Stanley Cup-sized trophy that will, after the culmination of the tournament next Sunday, August 2, be engraved with the name of the champion.

Prior to the start of the community-building soccer event, co-organizer Chris Noble predicted that Saturday’s “round robin”-style format – in which each of 16 teams played three games, with the top eight moving into Sunday’s quarter finals – would amount to a “war of attrition.”

Indeed, as the thermometer soared into the high 80s, worn-down players sought shelter between games under a giant tent provided by Red Bull. Minutes after competing on the field, there they were, lounging side by side in the shade, cracking jokes and sipping refreshments. Liberians and Jamaicans. Cyprians and Koreans. The Irish and the English.

“It’s a very positive spirit,” Noble said in between tending to his tournament duties and filming game footage that he hopes to turn into a documentary. “We knew something like soccer would be a great vehicle to kind of bring all these cultures together where everyone can kind of intermingle, and kind of get that great international experience – you know, what New York is all about.”

Of course, with Copa N.Y.C., as with most international soccer, that global experience manifested itself in a variety of ways – from jovial pre-game banter to on-field shoving matches to contagious chants in the bleachers.

The 0-0 bout between the United States and Argentina on day one was especially intense. Yet, despite a few hard tackles and the severe stare-downs that followed, the showdown stayed true to Noble’s goal of competitive camaraderie.

In fact, after the Jamaicans dominated the South Koreans to the tune of a 6-0 finish, Jamaican striker Dawyne Smith shook a smiling Korean fan’s hand and the two joked about Smith’s goal.

Afterward, the Korean, Won Yoon, confidently declared, “Next year, Korea will be ready.”

If Noble and fellow co-organizer Spencer Dormitzer have their way, there will be a next year. They plan on turning Copa N.Y.C. into the city’s premier annual intercultural sporting event – one that will rival the Marathon.

Alfredo Estrella, an Ecuadorian fan from Flushing, said the international exposure offered by events like Copa N.Y.C. is the recipe for American soccer success down the road.

“In the U.S., this is how soccer is going to develop a lot more,” Estrella said, adding that Copa N.Y.C. is “a good concept” and that he was impressed with the level of competition.

“All of these teams – all of them – they’re all great,” said Estrella’s 12-year-old son Javier, himself a soccer player. “To me, I’m hoping they’re having fun doing this. I’m hoping nobody gets real competitive over here. This is really fun to watch and I don’t want to see that get ruined.”

The players, even if things were a little animated on the field from time to time, tended to agree with the young Estrella.

Smith, the striker from Team Jamaica, called the tournament “a good sporting exercise” and commended the organizers and sponsors for their efforts.

“It’s a good project as far as unification is concerned. So, thumbs-up to them for that,” he said.

After the quarterfinal round on Sunday, July 26, Smith’s Jamaican squad had been knocked out, along with Ghana, England and France.

The action continues on Saturday, August 1 at Maspeth’s Metropolitan Oval with Argentina facing off against Albania at 6 p.m. and Ireland and Cyprus going head to head at 8 p.m. in the two semifinal games. The championship match will take place on Sunday, August 2 at 8 p.m. in the Oval.

“This kind of a tournament needed to happen,” Noble said on Saturday as players darted back and forth behind him and the Argentineans kept making their music off in the distance. “It can’t stay underground for much longer because these players, they’re too good to not be highlighted.”

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