Title 'A Little Bit Sweeter' The Second Time For Cosmos Defender Hunter Freeman

The veteran defender fought through injury to help the Cosmos lift a second title in three years
Jason Lind (@JasonKLind} | Dec 1, 2015

Eleven New York Cosmos players were members of both the 2013 and 2015 North American Soccer League championship teams. Of them all, defender Hunter Freeman may have had the toughest road to that second ring.

Freeman, 30, was one of the team’s first signings and a rock on the right side for New York in 2013. He started every game but one en route to a title in the reboot campaign. 2014 was more of the same, as the Texan took home the first ever Emirates Cosmos Player of the Year award due in part to his remarkable consistency: 26 starts during the 27-match season.

So when Freeman hurt his foot and was forced to sit out at the onset of the 2015 season, it was unfamiliar territory. While a lingering injury would frustrate most players, the feeling was magnified for Freeman, who was used to seeing more action in a Cosmos uniform than anyone else.

“Initially it was something I thought would take a month to recover from,” Freeman said. He was dealing with plantar fasciitis, which caused debilitating pain in the heel of his foot. “But then I would have a setback. And that process happened like three times.”

Using New York Cosmos B, the club’s reserve squad playing its inaugural season in the National Premier Soccer League, Freeman took the next steps in his rehabilitation with valuable minutes in competitive matches. He was back in the first team's starting lineup for the Cosmos' historic friendly in Havana, Cuba, then returned to league action on June 13 against Jacksonville Armada FC in the Spring Season finale.

On Aug. 5 he announced his comeback with flair. In a 1-1 slugfest against Minnesota United at home, Freeman settled a deflected ball 25 yards away from goal and pasted it, finishing upper 90 past Loons goalkeeper Sammy Ndjock in the 76th minute. It was the game-winning score, giving the Cosmos their second straight win in an impressive August.

“I remember considering a first-time strike, but I wanted to let it settle because I was worried it’d go over the bar,” Freeman said of the sequence, an NASL Play of the Year candidate. “I could feel it as soon as I hit it. The feeling of striking a ball that well, you just know you’ve got a good chance at putting it in. It was made even better by the fact that it was a tough opponent. We’ve had our share of battles with Minnesota.”

Freeman appeared in 15 regular season matches and went the full 90 minutes in both fixtures of The Championship, the NASL’s four-team postseason tournament. He tallied two goals and two assists in 1,397 minutes on the field, and helped the club take a 3-2 result over Ottawa Fury FC in The Championship Final at Shuart Stadium on Nov. 15.

“I’d say this season was a little sweeter because of everything I had to deal with going in,” said Freeman. “It was the polar opposite of the previous years in terms of dealing with injuries and working hard to come back. It's encouraged me to work even harder next preseason.”

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