Since 2013, the Cosmos have focused on building a club that could win league championships, make deep runs in the US Open Cup, and, in a phrase used consistently by the organization itself, compete at the highest levels in this country.
The Cosmos have engaged in a series of recruiting efforts to build a well-rounded organization on the field to achieve these goals. The results have certainly been mixed.
Three years of league play. Three postseason appearances, two NASL titles. Two years of Open Cup play. An overall 4-1-2 record. A win and a draw (won in PKs) against MLS clubs, both losses against them, too. Some high-profile friendlies against teams like Villarreal, SD Eibar, and the Cuba Mens’ National Team.
To that end, the Cosmos have used nearly every means to build a squad capable of handling the load. Some of their longest-tenured players, like David Diosa and former player, now scout, Dane Murphy, hail from the old Cosmos Academy East and subsequent U-23 team that competed in the USL Premier Development League.
A more recent tool at the club’s disposal has been New York Cosmos B, which could be viewed as the successor of the old U-23s. In their inaugural season, players like Haji Wright, Ruben Bover, and John Neeskens started with the NPSL side and eventually graduated up to the first team.
They’ve also brought in star talent with experience at the top levels of the game. Players like Raul, Marcos Senna, Niko Kranjčar, and Juan Arango have seen time in some of Europe’s top leagues with the two Spaniards and the Croatian also having experienced the game at its peak, the World Cup. Some, like Satoru Kashiwase, Yasmani Duk, and Andres Flores, have joined from foreign clubs on loan, with the Cosmos eventually opting to sign Flores.
The club has, of course, also looked domestically signing captain Carlos Mendes, Hunter Freeman, Danny Szetela, and others from different levels of the game.
“As a sporting department, we look at every opportunity to build the team we are looking to build,” stated head coach Giovanni Savarese.
“We look at players that have played in MLS, players that have international experience, players that are young. American, young, international. As I always say, if one of them comes with an important name as they have in the past and it makes sense, because they bring the right attitude, we’ll bring him in.”
A major component of their domestic team-building, however, has been loans from MLS. These have played out in different ways for the club.
Three MLS players were loaned to the club across 2014. Jimmy Ockford was loaned to the Cosmos by the Seattle Sounders shortly after they drafted him. Sent to New York on a season-long loan, he made ten NASL appearances and played in three US Open Cup matches during his time with here.
The Colorado Rapids sent Danny Mwanga on a season-long loan to the club. This loan also went well, with the Rapids allowing for an extension of the loan through the league championship if the Cosmos had reached it.
One more player would join the Cosmos that season. Connor Lade of the Red Bulls, struggling to find minutes, would join the Cosmos in July. While with the boys in green, Lade was recalled once by his parent club for a CCL match. Despite a reported verbal agreement between the two sides not to recall him again, he was recalled a second time and the Cosmos ended the loan deal less than three months after it started, a less than ideal ending to the situation.
Leo Fernandes would be the only MLS loan for the Cosmos in 2015. Joining from the Philadelphia Union on a season-long loan during preseason, he would make the most of it, with 31 appearances and ten goals across the US Open Cup and league. He would ultimately win hardware as the NASL’s Young Player of the Year. While everything went well on the pitch, TICC found out last year that the Union had tried to recall him and the Cosmos had to work to keep him in New York.
Jimmy Ockford returned to the Cosmos on another loan from the Seattle Sounders before the start of the year. So far, so good with this one as he has stayed with the club for the entire spring season and played a big part in their results.
Mike Lahoud has been a different story, however. As part of the Walter Restrepo deal sending the midfielder to the Union, Lahoud was sent to the Cosmos on a season-long loan. Lahoud made an immediate impact on the field and off, earning a starting role in the first seven games of the season and becoming a fan favorite for many. Mysteriously left out of their eighth match, the reason became apparent the next day when Big Apple Soccer reported his recall by the Union and a sale of his contract to Miami FC.
In the most congested part of the Cosmos’ schedule, they were faced with multiple injuries and a national team call-up while now fielding the loss of a starting player to a recall on a loan on a player that was supposed to last the year in return for a player sent to the Union.
But, I do feel the Cosmos have left themselves repeatedly exposed to the risks of the loan system since 2014. Why would a team that has the ability to bring on players like Raul, Marcos Senna, and Niko Kranjčar put themselves at a disadvantage by engaging in unfavorable MLS loans with terms for recall that leave them at risk and by developing players they seem unable to keep?
Coach Savarese had some insight for us on that.
“The loans are important for us because sometimes there’s players that we feel could contribute in a very positive way to us. And with the relationships we have with many teams, we are able to bring these kinds of players that can help us. it’s true that not all the time, those loans have gone the right way, but there’s other times that they have.”
“We have to make sure that we prepare the most competitive team that we can and that comes sometimes with looking at players that are available for us to bring on as a loan.”
The trends, as I see them in this admittedly small sample history of loans, are that we have no issues with MLS Western Conference teams allowing their players to stay for the duration, Eastern Conference teams are fine with recalling them at will, maybe due to the convenience factor of location.
Savarese does not agree with this assessment as he made clear in recent comments to reporters.
“I wouldn’t put it in a sense that the closer the team is to us, then the more difficult it has become. I won’t put that there, because with Philadelphia, Leo stayed here the whole year. There was just a moment in which there was a talk of him going back, but he never did. So I would say with Philadelphia, we have had a good situation.”
He did acknowledge that the conditions of some of the loans can complicate things, but believes these situations have been few aside from Lahoud.
“Connor Lade was probably the only experience that wasn’t very controlled, but everything else hasn’t been bad at all [excluding the Lahoud recall].”
With MLS loans having the language built into their contracts regarding the right to recall at any time, I can’t fault them too heavily. I personally find those actions to be somewhat unethical, especially in the case of Lahoud, but they have every right to do so.
If the club believed they had an agreement with Red Bull, and Red Bull broke it, that’s an instance of a club not living up to its word, but after the Fernandes loan last year and us being unable to hold onto him after, it almost feels like a wasted investment to take in a loan, develop him into a starting player and then return him for either another player to develop and not keep or nothing at all.
I’m certain there are a few good reasons. Competition within the club for spots makes our signed players better. The option to try before you buy is another. But, all in all, it feels like the work to keep these players with us and the more likely option of not getting anything from them in the long run is something the Cosmos need to revisit.
But will the Cosmos continue to explore loans with MLS? Particularly with the Philadelphia Union after a Lahoud loan gone awry?
“I would say yes, because if you go back to Leo, you see Ockford, there are some good stories there,” explains Savarese. “We haven’t done that many loan deals but there are some good situations that we have experienced through the loan deals. Remember Mwanga, when he was with us, he was constant. I think we have more good experiences than bad experiences.”