Capping off an undefeated season in front of 18,227 fans brings about an image of American football, which has been the nation’s most popular sport for decades.
For Brian Cunningham and the New York Cosmos B, however, this described their NPSL National Championship match, where they defeated Chatanooga FC 4-3 In front of 18,227 fans in Tennessee.
“It was definitely a mindset,” Cunningham said. “We didn’t go out to compete, we went out to win.”
Cunnigham’s journey to become an NPSL champion has been a long, winding one, but the 25-year-old has made an impact everywhere he ends up.
The striker started his soccer journey at Howard University before transferring to Virginia Tech and playing with the D.C. United U-23’s in the summer. After his college days were done Cunningham would play for Harbour View Football Club in Jamaica’s top tier and then went on to train with the Orange County Blues of USL PRO.
Cunningham looks back on his experience in Jamaica most fondly.
“Everyone is fast, everyone is physical. It helped me develop what I was already good at, while also improving my physical abilities.”
Cunningham also holds citizenship with the U.S., but is eligible for the Jamaican national team due to ancestry, and is hoping to take part in the program someday.
“They’ve been flirting, but I hope someday I get an e-mail that is a straightforward invitation.”
After his experience in Jamaica, Cunningham joined Lansing United, where he brought the team all the way to NPSL Semi-Finals where they eventually fell to the New York Red Bulls U-23’s.
In his time at Lansing United, he received the Mitre National Player of the Week award after scoring a hat trick against the Cinncinati Saints and tallying an assist on a game-winning goal against the Michigan Stars.
“In Lansing he was a consummate pro,” Jeremy Sampson, President/CEO of Lansing United said, “always staying late and working on his game. I have no doubt that he will be a successful pro player.”
In 2015, Cunningham joined the New York Cosmos B, and cherishes his experience at the legendary club, where Pelé still serves as the honorary president.
“Being with the Cosmos with all the great names was a growing process for me,” Cunningham said. “You have to know the system and know your role.”
Cunningham and the Cosmos B went through the season undefeated, and landed in the final against Chatanooga, whose home stadium was packed with over 18,000 fans for the match. Cunningham was excited about the opportunity to play in front of such a huge crowd.
“I like playing in front of people. If I know a family member or friend is coming, I’ll try to put on a show.”
Cunningham and the Cosmos did put on a show, defeating Chattanooga 4-3 and claiming the NPSL title in front of the opposing fans.
“I was never a national champion before,” Cunningham said. “It was a great feeling.
Even those back in Lansing rejoiced in Brian’s accomplishments this season, knowing that the fan favorite deserved the opportunity to claim more hardware.
“I’m happy for Brian,” Lansing United Head Coach Eric Rundland said. “He was close to making the finals last year with us, so for him to push on to the finals and win the NPSL is a great step in his career.”
Cunningham, who has already traveled more than 7,000 miles in his soccer career, will now move on to playing professionally in New Zealand, something which “came at somewhat of a surprise.”
But it was a good surprise for a player that developed a great deal during his time in the NPSL.
“One day I was randomly thinking about playing in New Zealand, and seemingly the next I’m signing a contract to play professionally in New Zealand,” Cunningham concluded.
Cunningham said he is excited for his new opportunity and is ready to embrace his soccer journey, wherever that might take him.
“I’ve already traveled 7,000 miles, what’s 7,000 more?”