“We’ve found our savior,” shared Cosmos COO Erik Stover in a media call Tuesday morning. “A savior for this club and, I believe, a savior that has kept the North American Soccer League going.”
What were some of the words this savior dropped in yesterday’s call when discussing the future of this team?
“I don’t know.”
“Let’s take one step at a time.”
While underwhelming to some, those words were indicative of a view that has not always been associated with this club: pragmatism. And while it’s still too early to tell, this approach may have been what was sorely needed by an organization in a tailspin.
Weeks ago, any fan of the New York Cosmos could have told you how bleak the picture was. After claiming three league titles in four years, the team had abruptly gone silent with stories circulating about staff and players being released, in most cases owed several months of pay.
And then Rocco B. Commisso entered the picture. The long-time New Yorker and Columbia University product who’d made his millions with Mediacom had always dabbled into soccer, but never entered the professional realm either here or abroad. That is, until this offseason, when his 11th hour appearance not only gave the club and, possibly by extension, the league a new chance to play again, but also earned him the new title of savior.
But, this is the New York Cosmos. The club that Pelé, Chinaglia, and Beckenbauer played for. The club with a name still known around the world from its first go-around. And while its shine faded somewhat with entry into the American second-division, it still found a way to recapture some of its past glories. Three NASL titles in four years of play. The signing of the Raúl, Real Madrid’s Eterno Capitán. A much publicized friendly in Cuba. Despite playing in the NASL, under Seamus O’Brien, the club had always stated that it wished to play at the highest levels of the game and was often linked to players of a certain stature that could get them there.
How would Commisso continue this trend?
“I don’t know.”
The Italian has entered the picture with a whole other set of priorities for this team.
“In addition to what’s been done the last two weeks, my first priority is to re-hire or retain some, most of the people on the management side of the business,” said Commisso who also shared that Head Coach and Sporting Director Giovanni Savarese’s work in rebuilding the sporting side was just as important.
“We have a tough and difficult future going ahead,” he added. “Give us some time to iron out some of the pressing needs like the stadium, the players, filling the team, bringing back the front office and the executives.”
A positive start has been the prioritization of righting a major wrong of the previous ownership majority, the back pay owed to players and staff for the last few months.
“Absolutely,” the new owner affirmed when asked if the payment of wages was a priority. “Let’s get something clear. Rocco is not known for screwing anybody, alright?”
“Rocco does not have that reputation and Rocco has never had that reputation so first order of business is to take care of all the employees that we may owe some money, okay? And you heard it from me, so you can write it.”
It was confirmed with Commisso and Stover that payment of the owed wages should take place no later than Thursday.
The team itself will also take some time to rebuild, Savarese shared on the same call.
“Right now we have to recreate everything,” said the Venezuelan. “This just happened. Everything happened very quickly the past few days. We’ve been working to try to attract players, to bring them back. But, the reality is there’s a lot of work to be done.”
“So, at the moment, we don’t have preseason plans. Everything has to be done now, from preseason to rebuilding the team. We’re not starting from zero. As I said to Rocco, we’re starting from minus five. But, we have all the willingness and the desire to do the best that we can to rebuild the club, to set up preseason, and to put a competitive team that’s going to be ready whenever the NASL season is going to start if it’s on April 1st or along those lines, but to put a team competitive for the fans.”
Other topics of a much larger scope came up on the call, including a permanent home. With the ESDC’s decision to scrap the Belmont Park RFP, any lingering hope for an approval of the Cosmos stadium project was officially ended after a wait that had dragged on for years. Commisso’s approach on the subject was a complete about face from the club’s previous stance, with him suggesting that a ground share with other New York clubs might be considered as he cited European examples of shared stadiums.
But, ultimately, with everything needed for this club to be operational again, he put the topic on a back burner.
“Building a stadium is not something that I have to do tomorrow. I got other priorities and other things to deal with in the short run.”
Commisso’s approach to this team, in general, is a complete 180 from the way we’ve previously seen this team marketed and run: the continuation of a line of giants where superstars are destined to play and promises of play at the highest levels of the game exist.
It could come off as unappetizing to some, but with allegations of debt in the tens of millions, unpaid personnel, and even a pending court case for unpaid office rent, a restart under an ownership with a pragmatic view of the team could be just what the organization needs to find its footing again.
“I’m a guy who never, never over promises. I’d like you to know that we have a league, we have a competitive schedule we can go out and play, we have a field; those are the real priorities. And that we have a team that’s competitive. Whether we’re gonna win the first game or not, I think it’s more secondary, frankly. Because, I plan to be here for a long period of time. I’m also not gonna be the type of guy, and we have heard it more than once stated by a number of people who in their first time getting into the game of soccer, say ‘oh, I’m going to build a world-wide class soccer club in three years.’”
“I’m gonna be very gradual and you’re never going to hear me boasting about anything I don’t know anything about and you’re never going to hear me over promising on something I cannot deliver on. That’s the history of my company. That’s the history of me, Rocco. And not all fans appreciate what the new ownership will bring to the table.”
And if long-time fans need an endorsement, Savarese agrees with the sentiment.
“It’s going to take time,” shared the coach. “But, the most important thing is to create a sort of base in order to be able to rebuild this building or this club again. I think the exciting part is what Rocco said. The club has been saved, when we all felt, probably, it wasn’t going to be the chance and the case. That’s why so many players were helped to be able to go to other clubs. That’s why we tried to do our best to be able to be able to help everyone in the organization. But, as of now, the Cosmos exist, it’s going to continue. And we’ll do every day as we always have done in the Cosmos, try to recreate a competitive team.”