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Cosmos draw in historic Saudi Arabia friendly

SFC Grad Salvatore Barone Makes Cosmos Debut

May 22, 2017 By Scott Enman Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The New York Cosmos traveled to Saudi Arabia on Saturday to play reigning champions of the Saudi Professional League Al-Hilal FC. The game ended in a scoreless draw. Shown: Cosmos Owner Rocco B. Commisso (center) poses with both teams. Photo courtesy of Al-Hilal FC
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The New York Cosmos traveled more than 6,500 miles on Saturday to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to take on Al-Hilal FC, the reigning champions of the Saudi Professional League.

Although the match ended in a scoreless draw, there was no shortage of excitement during the momentous occasion as both teams had several great opportunities to score. 

The lack of goals, however, could not mar the historic significance of the match, which was the first-ever meeting between the two clubs.

“The atmosphere at the stadium was great,” said Cosmos midfielder Juan Guerra. “It was an honor to come all the way from America to play [in Riyadh]. We felt very welcome.”

“It was a good game against a very good team,” added Cosmos defender David Ochieng. “We are thankful to come and play Al-Hilal.”

With retired Portuguese legend Luís Figo in attendance, the Cosmos’ best chance to score came in the eighth minute as Ryan Richter made a darting run down the right wing.

Richter curled a low and hard cross that found Andres Flores in stride in front of goal. Flores opted to chip the ball over the keeper, but it went too high and nestled itself on the top of the goal.

Brian Holt, in for the usual starting goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer, was solid when tested, making two notable saves to earn a shutout.

St. Francis College (SFC) graduate and Brooklyn native Salvatore Barone made his Cosmos debut coming on as a second-half substitute.

Barone made an immediate impact as he provided a driven cross from substitute to substitute, hooking up with Herrera who headed the ball to the near post. The attempt, however, was turned aside by a diving Al-Hilal goalkeeper.

“We’re so happy for Sal,” SFC men’s soccer coach Tom Giovatto told the Brooklyn Eagle. “He put in a lot of hard work. He’s been playing soccer since he was a little kid. For him to play for the Cosmos is a dream come true.

“The Cosmos are playing in his backyard — in our backyard — and for him to work so hard in preseason to make the team and then continue to work hard and finally get his chance to step on the field, it’s a great achievement for him and we couldn’t be prouder of him.”

Although it was the first-ever meeting between the two clubs, the two teams share a little-known connection: Al-Hilal manager Ramón Díaz played against the Cosmos in 1980, when he was on Argentinian club River Plate.

The Cosmos last traveled to the Middle East during the 2014 preseason, playing three friendlies in the United Arab Emirates.

Al-Hilal is the most successful team in Saudi Arabia, having won 56 trophies, including 14 league titles, a record 13 Crown Prince Cups and two Asian Football Conference Champions League trophies.

In 2001, Al-Hilal qualified for the FIFA Club World Cup, joining the likes of Real Madrid and Galatasaray. That tournament, however, was canceled due to FIFA’s marketing partner International Sport and Leisure pulling out at the last minute.

In 2009, the International Federation of Football History and Statistics named Al-Hilal the Asian Club of the Century.

With the visit to Saudi Arabia, it was the 48th nation that the Cosmos have visited, emphasizing the club’s established reputation as a global soccer ambassador.

The international friendly was New York’s 128th contest played on foreign soil and the 187th international match, including those played in America.

“Our club has had the good fortune to represent the United States during many memorable international matches,” Cosmos head coach Giovanni Savarese said before the match.

“It is our hope that this historic visit to Saudi Arabia will unite people through the beautiful game of soccer.”

Shortly after the U.S. restored diplomatic relations with Cuba, the Cosmos were the first American sports team to visit Havana in 16 years when they took on the Cuban National Team in June 2015. The Cosmos, led by Raul, triumphed 4-1.

The Cosmos were looking to get back on track following a 3-2 loss on Wednesday to Premier Development League team Reading United in the Second Round of the U.S. Open Cup.

The Open Cup is the oldest ongoing cup tournament in U.S. soccer history. It was the Cosmos’ first-ever loss before the Round of 16 and their first defeat to a non-Major League Soccer side since entering the tournament in 2014.

The team will return to MCU Park on Saturday for North America Soccer League play as they host the San Francisco Deltas.

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