NEW BRITAIN - It’s a match that’s been more than four decades in the making - or at least in waiting.
For the first time since 1976, a soccer team from the Hartford area will host the New York Cosmos. Tonight, Hartford City FC and the Cosmos “A” team will go head to head in a National Premier Soccer League match on the campus of Central Connecticut State University. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
“I believe the last time they were in Connecticut they had [Brazilian star] Pelé on the team,” Hartford City FC founder and owner Aaron Sarwar said. “There’s this iconic soccer photo of him heading the ball. That’s the Cosmos when they last played at Dillon Stadium back in 1976, in the first rendition of the NASL.”
Back then, the North American Soccer League (NASL) was in its heyday as the premier professional soccer league in the United States, with 20 teams spread across the country and into Canada and some franchises averaging more than 20,000 fans per game.
The New York Cosmos B is the reserve team for the revived New York Cosmos, which play in the new Division II version of the North American Soccer League, although that league is on hiaitus for this year, as are the parent Cosmos.
The Cosmos B and Hartford City FC both compete in the NPSL, unofficially seen as the fourth tier of the U.S. soccer pyramid.
Both have had plenty of success in the early part of the season, ranking at or near the top of the North Atlantic Conference Division. Hartford City enters the match tied for second place at 5-2-1, while New York is in first with an undefeated 8-0-0 mark.
“Our team is made up of a lot of talented local athletes,” Sarwar said. “A lot of them are former D-I soccer players from the area and we also have some foreigners as well. We have one from London; we had some representation from Brazil, Jamaica, just all over. But the team is predominately made up of Greater Hartford, Greater New Britain natives.”
Hartford City, which was established in 2016 and started playing last year, competes in the Northeast Region Conference of the league along with 25 other teams. Last year, the conference was split into two divisions, white and blue, with different schedules for the two clubs, which prevented them from playing one another.
“The Cosmos and us were in different divisions,” Sarwar said. “We played the teams in our division and then whoever played in the playoffs would play the Cosmos.”
This year the conference has a single table format, which means all the teams play each other once. That set the stage for the New York club to return to the area.
Sarwar likes what he’s seen from his squad thus far, especially leading up to the match.
“We are playing different teams this year and now we’re able to host [the Cosmos],” Sarwar said. “They’re undefeated, but our boys have been working hard and practicing. I’m confident in them that they’re going to win.”
A win for Hartford City could also provide the club with some momentum as it’s gearing up for what it hopes is another trip to the postseason.
“We’re heading in the right direction,” Sarwar said. “We should be making it this year.”
Shelby Iava can be reached at (860) 801-5096 or firstname.lastname@example.org