When the team originally rebooted, owner Paul Kemsley had MLS in mind, which matched the statements of MLS Commissioner Don Garber announcing the 20th franchise in MLS would be a second New York team.
That story is well worn at this point. Seamus took over, had different plans, MLS eventually chose to go with the Manchester City/New York Yankees backed bid instead, introducing NYCFC, who would begin play in 2015 at Yankee Stadium.
The Cosmos took it in stride, and kept their goal of being the top franchise in North America on the forefront. When asked about the upcoming season and the future in the NASL instead of MLS, COO Erik Stover told the New Yorker,
“We don’t look at ourselves as second division in any way,” he said. “We’ve said from the beginning as we’ve taken over this project that we want to be at the top of the pyramid in the United States.”
The club took the next step in building towards that future with their new Belmont stadium proposal, along with a new goal of helping build a growing NASL into a world-class league. Speaking of the Cosmos’ plans, Stover continued,
“We want to be in our own stadium. We want to have what we believe to be the best roster in the United States. We want to be competing in CONCACAF for a Champion’s League title. And we want the NASL to be as good or better than Major League Soccer.”
The target that was already hanging on their backs got a whole lot bigger.The Cosmos prepared for a full year of competition by re-signing several of their starters from 2013, including Carlos Mendes, Hunter Freeman, Seba Guenzatti, Ayoze, Roversio, Danny Szetela and, most importantly, Marcos Senna. The club reinforced the club with Norwegian forward Mads Stokkelien, moving abroad for the first time in his career after several promising seasons with IK Start and Stabæk in Norway.
Hans Denissen, an NASL Best XI forward in 2013 with San Antonio, was signed and the club acquired several loans, including defender Jimmy Ockford, along with Connor Lade, midfielder Andres Flores, and forward Danny Mwanga for the back half of the year.
The club started strongly again. Following a preseason in the United Arab Emirates the club began play in the Spring with an impressive 4-0 victory over Atlanta in their home opener in front of 7,900 fans.
Surprisingly, the team would take a dip in their next home match, giving up an early goal against the San Antonio Scorpions, eventually losing 0-1. The loss would hang with the team the next week, a gritty and physical affair with Carolina. Tiyi Shipalane would get the early goal, similar to San Antonio, and five yellows and a red card later the Cosmos lost 0-1 for the second consecutive time
Overcoming the consecutive defeats, the club would finish out the Spring winning four of their next five, only drawing against league newcomer Indy Eleven, a match where Marcos Senna would come off late with an injury. A strong season from Minnesota United would be the difference, as they would win the Spring with only one point more than the Cosmos, 20-19.
The team would immediately shift the focus to the next item on their agenda. The US Open Cup.Their first ever Cup match was against local amateur side (also former club of head coach Gio Savarese and defender Jimmy Mulligan) the Brooklyn Italians. The match took place just three days following the draw with Indy.
The Cosmos played a mostly first-team side against the NPSL team, going up two goals thirty minutes into the match. Brooklyn would go down two men in the second half thanks to yellow cards and the Cosmos would cruise to victory, a solid showing in their first Cup appearance. More importantly it ensured a first ever meeting between the Cosmos and the New York Red Bulls.
Red Bulls were building on one of their most successful seasons ever. Finishing the 2013 MLS season with the best record in the league earned them the Supporters Shield and qualified them for CONCACAF play. The club would go on to flame out in the semi-finals of the MLS playoffs.
The grind of the 2014 season was catching up to Red Bull. They would skid into the match-up going 1-1-3 across their previous five matches. A stark difference compared to the streaking Cosmos 4-1-0 run to finish out the Spring. Two of those victories and the victory over the Italians came without Senna.
Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke shared his thoughts about playing the Cosmos at Hofstra in the first ever derby match. Speaking with CBS New York he said,
“It’s a great opportunity for us,” said Petke. “ As far as who the opponent is, obviously I guess because they’re close by in proximity, it makes up an interesting story. However, at the end of the day, we’re going to take the same approach we would if we were playing any other team in any other league. We want to win the game.”
Petke would choose to rest first team cornerstones Tim Cahill, Dax McCarty, Roy Miller, Jamison Olave, and French legend Thierry Henry against the Cosmos. In front of a raucous 9,364 fans at Hofstra, the Cosmos would demand respect early on.
After changing possessions a few times, newcomer Mads Stokkelien one-touched a long ball from Carlos Mendes, putting the Cosmos up 1-0 just seven minutes into the match. It was all Cosmos after that. Stokkelien would score again in the second half before getting an assist on an Alessandro Noselli goal a few minutes later, bringing the total tally to 3-0 for the Cosmos. Cosmos out-shot Red Bulls 21-3.NYC was officially green after the first “Battle for New York”. The hype and promise surrounding the Cosmos and their first ever Open Cup chances increased even more. They were then placed against a struggling Philadelphia Union side for the next round, who had won just three league games at that point. It was the fifth round, also known as the Round of 16.
Philadelphia would put out a mostly Best XI side for the match-up, the Cosmos going with the same lineup that beat RB just ten days prior. Both sides played well defensively in the first half, going into the break tied 0-0. The Cosmos would open up scoring ten minutes into the second with a Noselli goal, but the Union answered back immediately with a goal of their own on the very next possession. The two sides would go to extra time, which is where the match became marred with controversy.
After a chippy second half, things stayed physical through extra time. Both teams were visibly frustrated with how the game was going. In the 101st minute Stokkelien saw a chance for a breakaway, only to be taken down from behind in the box. The team was outraged a penalty wasn’t given.
In the second half of extra time, frustration seemed to culminate for both sides. Jimmy Ockford became tangled with Maurice Edu inside the box on a throw in, this one leading to a Union penalty kick, which they would convert. Shortly after the PK, a scuffle would break out between future Cosmos player Michael Lahoud, Jimmy Ockford, Ayoze, and Union forward Antoine Hoppenot. After everything settled, in total, two Cosmos assistant coaches would be ejected and Lahoud, Ockford, and Ayoze would all see red.
The match would finish 2-1 for the Union, and just like that the Cosmos’ first Cup run would come to an end over two weeks before the team would even begin play for the Fall Season. After the game head coach Gio Savarese didn’t hold back sharing his distaste for the officiating.
The Cup hangover would run with the team through the Fall, as the grind of a full season also caught up quickly with the club. The Cosmos would finish sixth after going a dismal 5-8-5, becoming playoff eligible thanks to their Spring Season and the new Soccer Bowl format. They would be knocked out of Soccer Bowl contention by eventual champions San Antonio, marking the fourth time in a row the Scorpions had beaten the Cosmos.
“It was clear today that it was a show, and the principle guy in the show was the referee… The referee ruined the game and it was very clearly that he put his hand on this game and it’s a shame because our guys worked hard and [Philadelphia] worked hard and it could’ve been a much better game for sure with a better end. And I don’t think our guys deserve to have a such a mediocre referee… We’ve been robbed.”
The Union would go on to make the Open Cup final, where they would lose at home in front of 15,500 fans to the Seattle Sounders in extra time. Red Bulls would finish fourth in the Eastern Conference, going on to lose to the New England Revolution in the MLS Cup semi-finals. Atlanta and Carolina would both make the quarterfinals of the Open Cup, becoming the lower division sides who made it the furthest, losing to Chicago and FC Dallas, respectively.
Buzz around the Cosmos seemed to dwindle as the year went on. Disappointment over the early and controversial Cup outing, along with a drop in the excitement and glamour of the club’s return were noted by the Guardian as possible reasons the club wasn’t gaining traction in their second season of play. On top of everything, there was still no mentioned on the status of the Cosmos’ stadium bid.
Attendance had dropped significantly by the time the team finished the year. League play in all domestic leagues were overshadowed in the summer by the World Cup in Brazil and the NASL, in particular, didn’t fully recover. The Cosmos would have to patiently wait before revamping again for another shot at domestic glory.
Although, this time, they would also have to deal with the new, blue, kid in town.