Every week NASL.com will take a look back in time and recall memories of the North American Soccer League in a regular ‘Throwback Thursday’ feature. From players, coaches and fans to landmark games and the occasional humorous event, each Thursday will offer a new memory from years gone by.
This week, New York Cosmos assistant coach Alecko Eskandarian recalls his childhood memories of the Cosmos and the opportunity to continue his family’s legacy with the club.
By Kristan Heneage
“I didn’t realize these guys were the greatest soccer players to ever play the game to me they were just friends to kick the ball around with,” that’s how Alecko Eskandarian explains his childhood in a locker room playing with former New York Cosmos defender Carlos Alberto.
The Brazil legend was a teammate to his father Andranik at the Cosmos, for who Alecko recently became assistant coach. Afforded the chance to continue the family tradition when the club reformed, it was one he simply couldn’t turn down. “That made my option that much more attractive and intriguing,” he explained. “We grew up with the Cosmos and obviously it’s what brought my parents to the United States. There’s obviously significant meaning to the Cosmos name for me.”
His playdate with Alberto wasn’t the first time the young Eskandarian had shown a potential to follow in his father’s footsteps. Speak to his parents and they’ll regale you with the story of their young son’s first steps and how he ignored their beckoning in order to kick a nearby soccer ball.
It’s a passion that was further cemented during time spent watching current head-coach Giovanni Savarese ply his trade with another of New York’s soccer teams, the Metrostars. “He was one of my favorite players when I was growing up,” he tells me. “Me being a forward and a goalscorer as a youngster he was always one of my favorite forwards to watch in MLS. He scored a ton of great goals for New York; I remember trying to mimic him after he scored a bicycle kick goal in one of the games.”
The admiration evolved into friendship when the two met in Major League Soccer. Savarese may hail from Caracas, Venezuela, but he is deeply rooted in the soccer culture of New York & New Jersey. It was from there that the two connected on their mutual affection for the area Eskandarian had grown up in. Now working side by side, I’m curious to know what he’s learned about Savarese during his first managerial role.
“He speaks five languages, and he knows everybody [laughs],” he tells me. “He has a good heart. He has a keen soccer sense and tons of experience internationally and locally.”
Savarese is not the only one with linguistic skills on the coaching staff. Currently trying to reach the level of ‘somewhat decent’ at Italian, Eskandarian is also a fluent speaker of Armenian - something he admits to using when he wants to confuse anyone in the locker room. “I just bust it out and they have no idea.” he jokes.
Happy to indulge in the occasional laugh, his main focus is on the work he’s about to undertake: “I’m looking forward to the process of training,” he explains. “We’re basically building a team from scratch. I’m pretty much focused on making sure all the pieces of the puzzle fit. I’m looking forward to the pre-season to get these guys all on the same pitch playing together, seeing what works and what doesn’t.”
At only 30, and a former US International, it’s a unique situation for someone like Eskandarian to be in, but one he’s relishing. Having been a player as recently as 2010, he can still empathize with those he now tries to teach: “Whether it’s coaching decisions, whether it’s frustrating times, you’re not playing whatever it is. I’ve experienced that quite recently so it’s easy for me to relate to the players. That’s definitely a role that I think I need to take advantage of.”
He’s also keen to embrace the club’s history. Well versed in the heritage of soccer in New York, he also admires the unifying effect the game has on the city. “There are so many cultures that are passionate about soccer in this area,” he tells me.
That’s in part due to the work people like his father put in. “We’re in debt to the players that came before us,” he said. “Those guys from the 70’s and 80’s really made this a team that the public loved loved and I think that name has survived even though the team hasn’t played in over 20 years.”
Yet despite the club’s stellar past, Eskandarian now wants talk to focus on the Cosmos’ future - with one promise sure to whet the appetite of those eager fans. “We will absolutely play an attractive brand of football that’s going to reinvigorate the old Cosmos name,” he states confidently.
Although the club and what it represents holds a unique affection for Eskandarian and his family, the chance to weave his own story into the Cosmos tapestry is also something that appealed to him when he was afforded the opportunity. “It’s fun more than anything,” he explains. “The most important thing is that I believe in the project and what we’re doing. Obviously I have deeper ties with the history of it all. I think that helps me in terms of what to be expected and what we need to strive to meet.”
In the meantime, Eskandarian is gearing up for first kick: “I’m looking forward to all the work that comes before the lights go on in the stadium,” he said. That moment will come in early August when the club welcome the Fort Lauderdale strikers, at which point Eskandarian and his teammates begin to write the newest chapter in the storied history of the New York Cosmos.