With questions around the state of the league for the short and long-term, Jordan Jacobsen took a look at alternative domestic leagues for the New York Cosmos in Part One of his two-part series. Now, he explores what options might exist for the Cosmos outside the United States.
The Canadian Premier League
The Cosmos are obviously geographically limited in their options for leagues outside of the United States but, in an attempt for survival, all options need to be considered.
If the NASL were to dissolve, it is very likely, if not already known, that the Ottawa Fury and FC Edmonton would help provide stability in a new Canadian league. Ottawa seem to be leaving for the Canadian Premier League regardless of whether or not NASL remains, while Edmonton, on the other hand, seem to be somewhat hesitant. Should things go sour with the NASL, it would be wise for an upstart league like the CPL to absorb some up and running clubs to provide stability. The distance between New York and some of the major CPL cities rumored to be involved would not be significantly higher than the league’s average distance between teams. Much like MLS and their three Canadian franchises, the Cosmos could fit right in.
This move would be a step backwards for the Cosmos. Leaving the NASL for another upstart league would bring along the same risk and issues the Cosmos would be leaving behind. Plus, the Cosmos would now have to adhere to the Canadian Soccer Association’s rules, much like the Canadian MLS clubs answer to USSF and have Canadian players count as internationals, despite playing in their home nation. The CPL also is rumored to be comparable to the current level of play in USL, which would once again inhibit the Cosmos’ ability to assert themselves as an American power. Playing in Canada also does not have the same draw for international stars looking to end their careers in the US. It would be hard to see Juan Arango, Raul, and Marcos Senna coming on board for a season or two of trekking north of the border, compared to the monthly visits to Florida or Puerto Rico the team can offer now.
It would seem the team would still be eligible for the US Open Cup, but the roster makeup may not align with USOC rules. A team relying on Canadian talent would also have to have enough players eligible to count as American domestic players, meaning the team would have to surround itself with players of dual Canadian and American nationality to comply with the USOC’s five foreign player limit. This could eventually cause the team to pass on talent in an effort to maintain Cup eligibility. They would be unable to play in the Voyageurs Cup against their league rivals, and winning a Cup title and becoming CONCACAF eligible would be unlikely. Joining the CPL would ensure survival at least for a few years, but it would also end the team’s chances to become the global powerhouse it once was.
The Scottish Professional Football LeagueCrossing the pond could provide the club an intriguing option. The Scottish Professional Football League is one that is young in age, but rich in history. An organization owned equally by its 42 teams, spread out over four separate divisions, was developed after a merger between the Scottish Premier League and the Scottish Football League to help establish stability throughout all divisions of the nation’s soccer culture (imagine how that must be).
The Cosmos would clearly need to jump through some hoops and would need special permission in order to play in Scotland, but the idea isn’t unfeasible. Thanks to the complexity that is the United Kingdom, having teams playing in a foreign league instead of their domestic league is not unheard of, as seen with English-based Berwick Rangers FC opting to play in Scotland, although this decision was motivated by the reduced cost required to play in Scotland compared to England and thanks to their location on the English-Scottish border. There would also be some question about what division the team would be allowed to enter. With the SPFL having four divisions and practicing promotion and relegation, it would make sense for the Cosmos to start in the bottom division and make their way up to the top by winning. The 3,200 mile gap between New York and Glasgow would complicate a lower division entry. Lower-tiered Scottish teams would understandably not want to pay those travel costs on a regular basis, and the draw they would bring to New York would hardly be better than what the Cosmos have had since the reboot, and would likely be worse.
Speaking of drawing in America, the rumor of Scottish powerhouse Celtic FC looking to place a team in NASL, similar to Rayo OKC, as a way to grow their brand in America could help jump-start a move to SPFL. Instead of having their affiliate team play in the United States, Celtic could make multiple trips across the Atlantic with their premier club instead. Top flight teams could better afford the increase in travel expenses, and would benefit the most with regular trips to the US. As the league and teams are competing with the English juggernauts they border for players and relevance, having a regular presence in American could increase the value of all the clubs. While the Cosmos would have to adhere to Scottish Football Association rules, rounding out the roster with players from a pool of UK prospects could significantly improve the club’s on field level of play, and the idea of playing in New York while still being in a European competition could also draw bigger stars to the club.
Travel costs for the Cosmos would clearly go up as well, but may not be too different from their current costs to be offset by the increased level of competition and revenues. As previously mentioned, the 3,200 miles over the big, blue, wet thing would be required for all away matches, but the Cosmos are already traveling 2,400 miles to Edmonton, and preparing to travel 2,900 miles to San Francisco next season. Puerto Rico is half the distance at 1,600 miles away, and it would be understandable for the SPFL to make special travel arrangements and schedules to try and limit these costs as much as possible.
Permission to play in Scotland would also allow the Cosmos to qualify for play in Europa League, or even enter the prestigious UEFA Champions League. This, of course, would require special permission from FIFA and UEFA, but there are already club teams from the Middle East, like Israel’s Maccabi Haifa FC, and other Asian countries, like Russia’s FC Spartak Moscow and Turkey’s Galatasaray SK, who participate in European competitions, despite not being located in the European continent. It would also be hard for FIFA and UEFA to pass on the potential revenue of sending major European clubs into the United States for group play, especially if the club had qualified for the competition based on their play in a European league.
Sure, this may be the most unrealistic option that has thus far been mentioned, and sounds like something that could only be pulled off in FIFA 17, but the potential is promising and we’re all allowed to dream, right?
Liga MXWe’ll finish up with arguably the most tantalizing international option for the Cosmos, a spot in the top professional soccer league in North America: Liga MX. While the travel would still be significant, the trips would not be unheard of compared to the distances the team already travels. The gap between NYC and Tijuana is just over 2,400 miles, while the distance to Mexico City is a little less than 2,100 miles, which is considerably better than flights back and forth from Glasgow.
It’s also safe to assume that attendance wouldn’t be an issue for the Cosmos with a regular crop of Liga MX teams coming to New York. The league currently is averaging just under 27,000 in attendance per game for their 2016-17 season, but the draw of Mexican fans in New York having a chance to see their favorite clubs from their home nation, at least twice a year, would be hard to pass up. This increase in attendance could also have its drawbacks. There is evidence, based off Liga MX friendlies in the US, that large crowds would show up, but it could make the Cosmos a perennial road team. Having the ability to pack a huge stadium like Metlife for matches between the Cosmos and Club America, Chivas de Guadalajara, or Monterrey would definitely be an impressive coup for the club, but it could be taxing on the team if the majority of their home games are played at a 3:1 or even 4:1 ratio of visiting fans to Cosmos fans, which would definitely be a realistic outcome against the more popular Mexican sides. Still, this guaranteed draw could only help the bid for their own stadium, and maybe, with time, Cosmos fans could outnumber their visitors consistently.
The potential roster makeup would also be intriguing. Liga MX has been increasing its spending, and has even become an worthwhile option of some big European stars, like Andre-Pierre Gignac. A 2014 study showed that the average Liga MX salary ranked 10th out of the 34 major world leagues and nearly double that of MLS, who ranked 22nd in the same study. MLS has also received criticism based on it’s roster structure and rules, which were discussed previously in Part 1. With the designated player rule being lined up with the salary cap, only a handful of players make up for most of the league’s spending. This can be seen over the last two years, where in 2015 the ten highest paid MLS players accounted for 35.5% of the league’s total salary costs. Additionally, The Washington Post noted that for 2016, the league had 23 players making seven figures, 40 making $500k-$999k, and 220 making less that $100k. Liga MX rosters would be more balanced, which allows for a better overall roster, a reason that many attribute to Liga MX’s dominance over MLS teams in Champions League play. Playing in Liga MX would certainly offer the Cosmos a large bargaining tool when trying to agree to terms with potential signings, not only in higher salary, but also a higher level of competition.
There definitely would be drawbacks to a Liga MX roster as well. Just this year the Mexican Futbol Federation, FMF, made a new rule stating that only ten foreign born players would be allowed in the gameday 18, and this includes nationalized players. This means that American born dual nationals would count as a foreign player, despite having Mexican citizenship. For the Cosmos to maintain eligibility to compete in the US Open Cup, they could only field five foreign born players, and trying to compete in both competitions while adhering to the rules of two different federations once again would mean they potentially miss out on talent to instead sign Mexican born players with American citizenship. A dream scenario would be a Cosmos squad made up of some of the best Mexican-American players in the US Soccer pool, combined with some of the world’s premier players drawn to play in NYC for the Cosmos, competing against Liga MX squads in league play and MLS squads in the Open Cup. It would be a great way for the team to attract domestic fans and keep their American image, but the new rules would make that dream nearly impossible to achieve.
In conclusion, the Cosmos are preparing to round out the Fall Season, are likely to win the Woosnam Cup, and look ready for another run through The Championship for the Soccer Bowl. The overall health of the NASL remains somewhat volatile, but for now the Cosmos call the league home, and will do so for the foreseeable future. Hopefully the league is able to grow and reach its full potential, allowing the Cosmos to use their goals and ambition to help grow the world’s game in the US. Until then, hopefully the club secures another league title before making changes ahead of the 2017 season.