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Photo by STEVE HAMLIN/ New York Cosmos
Jaden Bascom, a player for the under-13 team, makes a touch on the ball as the team warms up for their match at Grover Cleveland Athletic Field in Ridgewood Sunday, March 1.

BY BENJAMIN MANDILE

Two teams of elite soccer players and their fans descended on Grover Cleveland Athletic Field in Ridgewood March 1 for a league match as part of the New York Cosmos Development Academy.

The New York Cosmos U-13 (under 13) and New York Cosmos U-14 (under 14) teams took to the field as members of the New York Cosmos First team, the professional players of the club, came out to watch. 

Emmanuele Sembroni, a defender on the Cosmos First team, said the experience can be amazing for the kids to have professional players watch their games and that it also sends a strong message from the professionals that they value the club.

These players are part of a soccer training academy that takes players with aspirations to compete in collegiate and professional leagues and guides them to improve on their skills, lifestyles and knowledge of the game in preparation for the next levels of their careers.

A group of soccer players warm up before their match at Grover Cleveland Athletic Field in Ridgewood Sunday, March 1. (STEVE HAMLIN/ New York Cosmos)

Players at the academy learn technique and begin to understand the nuances of the game, in part by being around professional level coaches and by playing within “more of a European type system,” said Tom Larsen, acting general manager of the New York Cosmos.

The idea behind the academy is to create “world-class players,” he said. 

“I think in American soccer, what we’ve relied on a lot is just sort of sheer athleticism and I think these academies try to teach more technique than athleticism,” said Larsen. “Athleticism helps though, by the way,” he added. 

As young players develop, there will be opportunities for the more elite players to advance to the professional ranks, said Larsen. 

Players that are “world class” are marketable to European teams who compete in some of the “best” leagues in the world including the well-known Premier League.

The club’s Development Academy features coaches who hold at least an USSF B license, giving developing players “the best environment,” according to their website

According to U.S. Soccer Federation’s rules, all coaches in developmental soccer academies that are approved by the federation must hold this licensure. 

Ridi Dauti, head coach for the under-13 team, speaks to players at a New York Cosmos Development Academy game at Grover Cleveland Athletic Field in Ridgewood Sunday, March 1. (STEVE HAMLIN/New York Cosmos)

In addition to the coaches, the young players also learn from professional players who play for the Cosmos First team.

These professionals help with practices at times including working on specific skills with the younger players and set an example on how to lead a healthy lifestyle including nutrition and training, said Larsen. 

Larsen said Sembroni is the perfect example of someone who sets a good example. 

“I think it’s very important if you are looking into a healthy environment, especially for kids,” said Sembroni. “I think that soccer is one of the most important one[s] in terms of growing as a man, growing stronger.”

Sembroni, who is starting his second season on the New York Cosmos First team, leads a life of fitness and said he hopes to become more involved in the Development Academy’s activities during this upcoming season. 

The New York Cosmos First team, which previously played in the National Premier Soccer League, is changing leagues and will join the National Independent Soccer Association for the 2020 season.

The team missed the cutoff for playing in the spring 2020 season and will kick off their season this fall.

Hugo Noguera, a player on the under-14 team looks at a ball mid-air during a match at Grover Cleveland Athletic Field in Ridgewood Sunday, March 1. (STEVE HAMLIN/New York Cosmos)

 In their absence from the field, Larsen encourages “hardcore” Cosmos fans to come out and watch Academy players in action.

Sembroni said during an interview in Brooklyn that he wants to thank the team’s supporters for their continued support during the off-season including messages they sent. 

The next game played in Ridgewood for the academy will be held on March 29 at Grover Cleveland Athletic Field on Suydam Street. 

“I think when you wear the Cosmos jersey you’re part of a ‘fam,’ more of an extended family, and those guys and ladies, they celebrate anybody who wears the jersey,” said Larsen. 

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