On Sunday, August 1st, 2010, Pele stood in the middle of a soccer field in Flushing Meadows Park and proclaimed the New York Cosmos were back.
On that day, NYC Poland defeated NYC Jamaica in the then-COPA NYC final and BW Gottschee partnered with the Cosmos organization led by Paul Kemsley. The mission was on to get the legendary New York Cosmos back into the top level of the US Soccer ‘Pyramid’.
Fast forward to today and we are just under two weeks away from the start of the 2017 NASL season. Meanwhile, the league and Cosmos are coming off a near death experience this offseason.
Clearly, this was not the plan Pele envisioned back in 2010 and, for most fans of the New York Cosmos, it was not what they expected either.
It is easy to forget that, in November, the New York Cosmos beat the Indy Eleven to capture their third NASL title in their first four seasons. This was their second title in a row won in front of the home fans. Belson Stadium was not the greatest venue and it was not even sold out, but Cosmos fans did not care as they danced in the middle of the field with their heroes lifting the Soccer Bowl trophy once again.
Cosmos fans once again hit social media to celebrate and rub their victory in the faces of fellow NASL fans. It was a high, but then…silence.
There was not much news from the New York Cosmos and no one expected the gauntlet that was dropped on what should be called “Black Monday” for Cosmos fans. Dave Martinez of Empire of Soccer reported that the New York Cosmos were, in fact, in trouble. Not only in trouble, but they were not paying players and staff were being furloughed.
The NASL itself was in turmoil as both the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Ottawa Fury announced they would leave NASL for USL with Minnesota United already moving to MLS for the 2017 season. Rayo OKC was rumored to be folding and the Fort Lauderdale Strikers were another team in financial disarray.
The title and the champagne were quickly forgotten as now the main question was would the club play again?
Fans waited on news and right before Christmas it looked like the Cosmos were in fact going to close up shop for the second time in franchise history. There were rumors of purchases by a group called GF Capital which we later found out were planning on folding the team and just holding onto the brand and Intellectual property until they could find a buyer.
The USSF was also involved as there was the discussion of Division Two sanctioning. Both USL and NASL were vying for D2 sanctioning. At this point, the NASL would need a large number of waivers to get D2. USL also needed waivers but as of late December, the NASL only had about seven teams that looked like they would taking the field next year.
Apparently, the USSF took a hard stance and claimed that unless they had eight teams the NASL would not even get a ‘provisional’ D2 status and would most likely be relegated to D3.
Look at that. We have promotion/relegation after all.
Piacere RoccoIn the darkest of the night, the 12th hour, just as the hammer was about to put the final nail in the coffin, Cosmos Country was more than happy to meet Rocco Commisso. The Mediacom CEO came and decided he not only wanted to buy the New York Cosmos, but he wanted them to take the field again in 2017.
The news of the almost certain sale resonated with the USSF who said with eight teams (including the Cosmos) the NASL would be provisional D2. The sale of the Cosmos went through with Rocco and an introductory phone call was held where the newest savior of the Cosmos proclaimed he was going to right this ship.
Since the 2010 reboot mentioned before, Rocco signifies the third leader of the New York Cosmos in seven years. Paul Kemsley was pushed aside after the New York Cosmos sent a globetrotter squad to Manchester for the Paul Scholes testimonial and lost 6-0. Seamus O’Brien came in and promised that NASL was going to challenge MLS for first division status.
Seamus put a good amount of money into the operation for the first few years, but after attendance dwindled at home and the launch of the second MLS club in the area, the Cosmos fell into irrelevance in a very tough New York sports market. Seamus, who refuses to admit he did ANYTHING wrong, stated there was $30 million of “investment” rather than losses.
Then there is Rocco…
In his initial call with the media, Mr. Commisso made a few promises to the fans. First, he would pay back any missed wages to staff and players. Then, he would bring the club into the five boroughs for the 2017 season.
Mr. Commisso did pay the ex-employees their overdue wages. I had the pleasure of seeing one of them the day the payments were made and you saw the sense of relief on their face.
Then, in February, the Cosmos announced that they would move into MCU Park in Coney Island, the second promise that Mr. Commisso kept with the fans.
MCU Park was a move that had been rumored for a few years as, in 2015, the New York Cosmos played two games there. One in May against the Ottawa Fury and then the playoff semi-final against the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers.
The fans and the players enjoyed the venue as it was a more professional feel, the turf was better than that Hofstra’s and fans could buy beer and watch the game. Also. the local communities had more potential for walk up crowds than the Cosmos had at Hofstra.
A Contender AgainRocco Commisso gave Head Coach and Sporting Director Giovanni Savarese the reins to rebuild the team and he did just that. They quickly resigned some of the better players that had not signed elsewhere. The Cosmos saw the return of players like Jimmy Maurer, Andres Flores, Ayoze and others. The Cosmos then orchestrated deals to bring back fan favorite Danny Szetela who had signed with the NASL expansion San Francisco Deltas and local prospect David Diosa who signed with the OKC Energy of the USL.
The Cosmos added new players as ex-Tampa Bay Rowdies midfielder Juan Guerra, Italian forward Amauri and intriguing players such as Javi Marquez who brought La Liga experience.
The Cosmos have gone to the Dominican Republic to start their training and will make trips to the Caribbean in preparation for the NASL opener in Puerto Rico on March 25th.
Where do we stand?
Since the reboot, the Cosmos have been nothing short of a soap opera. From the Kemsley-era and the extreme marketing with no news of an on-field product to Seamus and the Belmont plan that they waited pointlessly for years without moving onto a back-up plan.
Finally, to this offseason which can best be described as ‘chaotic’.
Where do we go from here? Rocco Commisso has been very strong since taking the reins and has delivered on putting a team on the field and moving them into the five boroughs. There are a lot of good stories coming out about the Cosmos and it looks like the team will compete once again for the NASL title.
Is it all roses? Depends who you ask. Some fans are just so enthralled that the team will be back playing games that there really is not much concern about other items. That is a very fair approach because after all…it’s about the soccer.
However, if you sit back and look at it, you cannot go into this season without concern. The NASL still seems to be a league with a lot of questions.
You have the Jacksonville Armada who are currently league-owned and are searching for owners. The Ft. Lauderdale Strikers have taken a hiatus as they search for new owners, but recent hopes have fallen through. North Carolina FC (formerly the RailHawks) and Indy Eleven have both submitted bids to be part of MLS, so questions remain if they will push hard on those bids in NASL or move to the USL which has a better relationship with the American top flight.
You then have rumors of a Canadian Premier League kicking off as early as next year and with extraordinary travel costs, that might be something FC Edmonton could consider.
The league has eight teams and needs at least four more by next year to hold onto its current ‘provisional’ D2 status. Rushing four expansion teams onto the field is never the best idea especially when, at this point, none of them have been announced. Rushed expansion is something which we have seen before in this country.
As for the Cosmos, yes everything looks like it is moving in a positive direction once again however, the one item that Rocco Commisso has failed to address is the long-term vision he has for the team. This ownership group often brings up the term ‘legendary’ when speaking about the Cosmos but how do they plan on making them legendary again? It has been stated that NASL will now be more cooperative with the USSF and not worry about D1 status and just focus on growing the league into a viable D2 league…if they can. Is that what Rocco wanted when he signed this deal?
Yes, the move to Brooklyn has brought on a new wave of media interest but how long will that last? We have seen media interest before when they joined NASL and signed Raul but, after a while, that all died down and the club fell back into…well…I’m sorry…irrelevance in the New York sports market. How do the Cosmos plan to be relevant in NYC? How do they plan to be viewed as a viable professional option for sports fans to watch going forward?
It has to be noted that Rocco is also a very smart businessman and you cannot question his intelligence on how to build something, however, the lack of that long term vision makes me wonder if he sees a long-term vision at this time.
If he does not, does that mean that next December is another ‘decision’ on the New York Cosmos’ future? Could Rocco be waiting to see how this season plays out before he decides if he wants to continue this journey or not?
Stay tuned, Cosmos Country, the soap opera is not over. However, the only thing you can do to help the team is get out to games and cheer them onto another title.