Finding Rocco: Jack Gaeta talks Gio, Cosmos, finding a savior

[l-r] Jack Gaeta, Alberto Gallego, Giovanni Savarese [Photo: Steve Hamlin/TICC]

By now, all of Cosmos Country knows the savior of their club by name: Rocco Commisso. Coming in as the club quietly died in the shadows, the Mediacom owner saved the team, moved it to Brooklyn and granted it at least another year of life.

But, what hasn’t been widely known is how Commisso got involved with this club after previously passing up opportunities in MLS and abroad.

That, as it turns out, is because of one man’s refusal to give up on the survival of the New York Cosmos. 

“So, came December, and I heard, like Rocco said, there were two offers on the table,” says Jack Gaeta. “One, someone was going to purchase the name and just close up shop or someone was just going to purchase the intellectual property, keep the name going and not the team. I said neither of those options are good for anybody; the fans, the players, the history of the Cosmos and just soccer, in general.”

“So, I think it was a Wednesday morning, I gave Rocco a call in his office and I said, ‘Listen, here’s the situation. If you’re interested we can get together.’ So I pass it on to Joe Barone, Joe initiated the meeting two days later, and the rest is that short history that you’ve heard.”

Who exactly is Jack Gaeta? Anyone who follows this club with some consistency has seen the Director of Team Operations, either on a TV broadcast, standing by the bench, or around the stadium on gameday.

Jack Gaeta teaches Javi Marquez “rock-paper-scissor.”
Marquez won. [Photo: Steve Hamlin/TICC]

“The title may have changed, but the duties are still the same; just running the operations, pretty much handling everything for the players once they’re signed. Gio and Luke [Sassano, Technical Director] are on the recruiting side. Once the player signs a contract, then I pretty much take over, getting their visas, getting them situated here, housing, getting their families acclimated and just doing the day-to-day operations and logistics for the team.”

That job description may not include “saving the team from extinction,” but this was a task that Gaeta took on and whose past played a crucial part in starting the process.

Gaeta’s history as a Columbia University graduate was key. A member of the school’s soccer program, he later met Commisso, staying in contact with him. Little could anyone have known that this relationship would be the beginning of another chance at life.

“I’ve known Rocco through Columbia University, through the alumni program. We met several years ago and we’d keep in contact every once in a while. I saw him in October at Columbia University; they had the Athletics Hall of Fame dinner where he was inducted. You know, we had a brief chat and he asked me how Cosmos were going and, at that point, we didn’t know the severity of the problem. I said ‘there may be some things going on, but let’s just keep in touch.’ And, in November, when I saw the severity of it, I decided one day and said he might be the perfect one.”

The story of Gaeta joining the team lies in a relationship that began long before the return of the green and white with an individual whose name is now synonymous with the team: Giovanni Savarese. And while many Cosmos faithful will remember the 2013 title, his first trophy win with the Cosmos head coach actually came in 1995 with the Long Island Rough Riders alongside USMNT players like Tony Meola and Chris Armas.

“I was just playing with loads of local teams: Greek Americans. Played with the Long Island Rough Riders as well, with Gio, when I first met him in ’95 and then started working and playing some sideball.”

“Immediately before the Cosmos, I was working with Gio Savarese at the Met Oval Academy. Gio was director and head coach of one team and I was coaching, with him, the U-16s and the U-18s.”

“I think it was 2009, we were working at Met Oval and we left in April, just before the season ended and then we heard some word that the Cosmos were looking to come back and resuscitate the name and start with an academy. One of their early directors contacted Gio and he brought me along. We were one of the first hires in 2010 with the academy.”

Perhaps, considering how involved he was from the beginning, his attempts to save the club should come as a surprise to few. But, with players and front office personnel all scrambling to find new employment as the club collapsed around them, what made Gaeta decide to go for the long shot of saving the organization?

Jack Gaeta [Photo: Steve Hamlin/TICC]

“I think it’s something I just thought of right there and then. I wasn’t thinking of the future; whatever may come may come. But, at that moment, just seeing everything…I mean, I was so entrenched in the Cosmos from day one. Not only since the rebirth of 2013, but even before that. From 2010 we had the academy youth program and just seeing everything I helped build in five years collapse in one week was not great. So, I saw the opportunity and I thought Rocco was the perfect person to come in at that point, for all the reasons you’ve seen. He’s a local guy, he’s passionate, he’s hands-on, he’s a family man. He’s local, he’ll come to all the games, he’s very involved directly with his business. So I think, at that point, it would have been a perfect fit just for the Cosmos, in general, and the history and keeping things going.”

“I mean, who wanted to see the opportunity for the Cosmos to end? Nobody wants to see that. So, the stars aligned, everything was fortunate on all ends. So, I’m glad it all worked out. Now we have a good base to go forward again.”

“I don’t want to call it a re-reboot,” he says with a chuckle. “Whatever you want to call it, we’re alive and going forward.”

 

 

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