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On the H​eels of Trump’s ​V​is​it, Two Teams: the New York Cosmos ​and Saudi Arabia's Al Hila​l​ Play Soccer

posted on: May 24, 2017

BY: David Demaria/ Arab America Contributing Writer

On the heels of American president Donald Trump’s recent visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, another version of international relations was taking place between the United States and Saudi Arabia at Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium in Riyadh. It was there where the Coney Island-based New York Cosmos played the reigning Saudi champions Al Hilal to a scoreless draw.

The New York Cosmos play in the North American Soccer League (NASL), which is considered the first division of the United States, one tier below Major League Soccer. They’ve won the Soccer Bowl, the NASL championship, three times in 2013, 2015, and 2016.

Meanwhile, Al Hilal Club (نادي الهلال) has won (دوري المحترفين السعودي) the Saudi Professional League 14 times, most recently in 2016-2017 (كأس خادم الحرمين الشريفين), the King’s Cup 8 times, most recently in 2017, and (كأس ولي العهد) the Crown Prince Cup 13 times, most recently in 2016. They’ve also won the most coveted prize on the Asian continent (دوري أبطال آسيا): the Asian Champions League twice, in 1992 and 2000. Their record of 56 official titles, on both the domestic and international level, makes them the most successful Saudi football club.

The Cosmos were greeted in Riyadh with a tremendously warm reception of applause during their introductions, in what was the first friendly match between professional teams from the United States and Saudi Arabia in any sport.

The Cosmos were almost able to connect on an early goal off the foot of El Salvadorian midfielder, Andres Flores Mejia, who was the recipient of a well-placed cross by defender Ryan Richter. A native of Southampton, Pennsylvania, Richter would continue to be a scoring threat in the first half, barely missing the goal on a shot attempt in the 27th minute.

Omaha, Nebraska native, and Cosmos goalkeeper Brian Holt, kept the home side off the board, with an impressive save in the 72nd minute, diving to his right and denying Saudi midfielder, Salem Al-Dawsari (سالم الدوسري) of an impressive shot attempt. Brooklyn native, and Cosmos midfielder Salvatore Barone came on in the second half to rejuvenate the Cosmos attack, and immediately made an impact, giving El Salvadorian forward, Irvin Herrera, a fantastic scoring opportunity, but his shot was deflected nicely by Al-Hilal keeper, Fahad Al-Thunayan .(فهد الثنيان)

A brief sandstorm during the middle of the match made for low visibility in an otherwise pleasant, and historic evening. The fans were very supportive of the American club, at times cheering for the away time. Cosmos midfielder, and Venezuela native, Juan Guerra, mentioned how great the atmosphere was after the game, saying “We felt very welcome {in Riyadh}.”

Of course, Donald Trump’s visit with (الملك سلمان بن عبد العزيز) King Salman Bin Abdulaziz is generating bigger headlines, but this match was a refreshing distraction from politics, and could be a way to further improve relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States, not only on a political level, but on a more intimate level through sport.