AAlmost two weeks ago, Jürgen Klinsmann, the coach of the US men’s national team, spoke out in favor of introducing a promotion and relegation system in American football. It has been a topic of discussion since the league began: MLS’s commercialized, tight-knit safety net versus the worst-team concept, as in many European leagues, is penalized for poor performance on the field.
In such discussions, it is questionable whether any team has been cited as an example other than the New York Cosmos – which was reported on Monday to be close to signing former Real Madrid star Raúl. Once the free financiers of the soccer boom of the 70s and 80s in the USA, who lured greats like Pelé, Franz Beckenbauer and Carlos Alberto to The City, the Cosmos are currently trading in the North American Soccer League – probably America’s second highest league, in terms of quality, behind the MLS.
Since their self-proclaimed “reboot” in 2013, the Cosmos, who won the flagship NASL Soccer Bowl in their first season last year, have continued the rhetoric of their main goal – before MLS speaks, before they sign famous stars like the good old guys Days – is to build a solid football team. The club continues to focus exclusively on the NASL.
It is this vision that led some to see the second season of the second coming of the cosmos as well as the difficult second album of the reboot. Given its great past and such a successful immediate reboot, some wonder: How does the new New York cosmos measure success?
When Manchester City and the New York Yankees bought their final MLS slot in New York two and a half months before the Cosmos returned to NASL, the realization hit that the famous franchise would not be mentioned as a realistic addition to America’s premier football league until at least 2020, when the MLS re-evaluates its expansion priorities.
For the foreseeable future, the success of the Cosmos on the field will be measured on two levels: dominance of the NASL and perhaps winning the US Open Cup.
The former, a league that restarted in 2009 (launched in 2011) and won five times as a record by the original Cosmos, is played in two segments: a spring season followed by an autumn season. Through a system suitable for exciting end-of-season promotions, the winners of each half and two other seeded teams enter a four-team playoff. Just like in the original NASL, the overall winner will take home the Soccer Bowl title. (The Cosmos comfortably won last season’s fall period, losing only one of 14 games against Atlanta before winning the title.)
This season, the Cosmos should take a place in the playoffs – but the performances on the field have been inconsistent. After failing to build on the 2013 success and win this year’s spring title (won by Minnesota United), it now looks like the Boys in Green will win the playoffs as third or fourth seed.
“We always have to fight for championships on the field,” said Erik Stover, Cosmos Chief Operating Office, via email. “We’ve had serious injuries and modest results this year, but things seem to be coming back for the championship in time.”
This loss of form has resulted in a drop in attendance at Cosmos games – although it could be argued that given the zeal that included last season’s relaunch of Pelé appearances and the addition of the club’s marquee contract, Marcos Senna, would have been expected.
In addition to the league, the US Open Cup, a knockout-style tournament now in its 101st edition, is the second success factor for Senna and Co. Like the FA Cup, this historic trophy allows participants of all standards across the country. The competition, the club said in the past, gives the Cosmos an opportunity to prove that it is the best football team in the country, despite earning the MLS title as America’s elite football league. This is still their goal.
In their first tournament appearance since the launch of the Cosmos Mark II, the team managed to claim a memorable 3-0 win against city rivals, the New York Red Bulls, in front of more than 9,000 home fans. They were eventually defeated 2-1 in the fifth round (Final 16) by the MLS side Philadelphia Union – a game in which the Cosmos were the better team for most of the game.
“The NASL did very well in the Open Cup this year and we should have gone beyond the Philadelphia game if it hadn’t been for some very bad officials,” said Stover. “That happens in sport, so we just turn the page and keep working hard.”
Winning the US Open Cup would also allow the Cosmos to qualify as one of the four United States representatives in the Concacaf Champions League and battle the best the continent has to offer without kicking a ball in the MLS to have.
Talk of such a performance, however, has to wait another season. And it’s such talk that, based on the results alone, could suggest that if they don’t pursue last year’s NASL title with another crown, this season is a bit of a sticking point for the Cosmos’s ambitions on the field. They’re clearly the biggest name in the league – with the greatest history – so why not have such high expectations?
But maybe that vision of success is a bit distorting, thanks largely to the players who donned the green jersey more than 35 years ago. People think “cosmos” and imagine glitz, glamor and grandiosity. Almost instinctively one sees the past screamers from Chinaglia before the tap-ins of the present. (Let alone the balance sheets.)
What if the current regime’s off-field plans for the present cosmos are as much an indicator of success as the razzmatazz on the field of the past? Really, they are still a team in their infancy. The goal, the club previously stated, is not to immediately mimic the wild spending and risky but instant success of the original Cosmos. Year over year growth is key.
Less than two years since they were competitive again, the cosmos appears to have laid a solid foundation for a well-managed back room structure. Based on Long Island, there are plans to develop a privately financed stadium valued at US $ 400 million, in which the team will accommodate around 25,000 fans. (The current attendance at Cosmos at James M Shuart Stadium at Hofstra University averages 5,000.) Stover, who admitted the process took a little longer than he would have liked, said he had suggestions for the Still Believes Project Right The Belmont Park property is “by far the greatest economic impact without tax funding”.
This private funding will come from finances that the clubs are keeping very close to their chests – presumably linked to the Middle East. This could help explain how the Cosmos has had sponsorship deals with big names like Nike and Fly Emirates, despite not playing in the top American league. It also means if they want to go back to the wasteful spending of the old days, the finances could be there when the competition hits.
Take away the expectations of putting up World Cup winners as well, and you could even argue that the rebooters did a good job of putting together a Cosmos roster extremely appropriate for the level the find is taking place – if also a little strong – seems to be up. The likes of Danny Szetela, Carlos Mendes and Hunter Freeman seem solid, US-born signings. While never seen as a Flair player during his time in Europe, Senna was a smart choice as a key feature of the club and has provided stability in the middle of the park for the past two seasons. and ahead of where the team may be struggling the most, Spanish striker Raúl is all but committed for next season’s push.
And then there’s the decision to join the NASL itself: to some, like the cosmos, it’s still a mystery that will continue to have questions about its long-term goals – to challenge the MLS or not? NASL doesn’t have a salary cap or certain players like the MLS in a format that Kosmos said would suit them. Hypothetically, nothing prevents a team from following the model of building a dominant franchise as Warner Communications did with the original Cosmos.
However, before such a team emerges – be it cosmos or not – the best the New York team can hope for is a sense of rivalry in a league like them that takes the Icarus approach and questions how high she can be reached so soon.
“[Having our current-day expectations based on the past] will always be the case for us and we welcome the challenge, ”said Stover. “We will always honor the past and work hard every day to build the club back to the way it was.”
So it’s this strange invention – historical names associated with young brands; Goals based on the past; and success in the field is the instinctive marker – which makes it a little difficult to distinguish between the accomplishments of Cosmos Chapter Two.
Judge the Cosmos on their accomplishments and, although wrong, based on what Pele’s team has done in the past: taking the NASL title this season (and beyond) should perhaps be the least of all the fans of the famous Expect franchises as they have the financial means to do so. It can’t even be too much to ask for a touch of style while doing this.
See the success of the cosmos outside the field – perhaps not as the “cosmos” at all; Instead, imagine that “New York’s two-year NASL franchise” – and the team – seem to have a solid financial base, football-specific stadium proposals, a strong squad for their level, and a championship title already in their pockets. Be fairly prepared for the NASL-or-bust approach for the next six years.
“The process will take some time and we feel we have done well in a short period of time,” said Stover. Measuring success – in and out of the field – will continue to be realistic. No matter how difficult it is to forget the past.