The stars don’t seem to be aligning the way they used to for the New York Cosmos.
In its heyday, the Cosmos didn’t have any organizational problems. They were the class of the league. They were the most popular team of the North American Soccer League and soccer’s biggest selling point to sports fans in the U.S., even bigger than the National team.
Thirty years later, the team is ready to make a comeback. But organizational issues, including where to play, how to get a stadium built, and how to get all the investments needed for getting things started have derailed the comeback and put things into a holding pattern.
From JFK to LaGuardia, the Cosmos are stuck on runway status without an official home. The branding is ready for takeoff as MLS Commissioner Garber has given his public blessings many times over that the Cosmos can be the next big thing for MLS.
But, the team can’t get liftoff because New York City land doesn’t come cheap and building a stadium doesn’t get done in a New York minute.
Even if it all went as perfectly planned as possible, no guarantee exists that the team would thrive in NYC. Soccer in the area has almost all of its history, including the old NASL NY Cosmos, playing in New Jersey even though the New York name has been attached. The same applies now for the New York Red Bulls from MLS. They play in a new stadium in New Jersey representing the NYC area.
If the owners of brand Cosmos were smart, they would start looking to field a team in the Minor Leagues. They need to get their brand off the ground and into play. In the minor leagues, unlike MLS, playing can happen much sooner than later.
The media and the fans of the Cosmos brand can talk all they want about how it can be, but until it actually happens, nobody can be really sure that it will ever happen.
The options of playing in the minor leagues allows the team to actually breathe life again. Nobody in the sports world will really respect the Cosmos until they are out there in their old-fashioned green and white uniforms playing competition week to week.
They can be a Harlem Globetrotter outfit if that’s what ownership wants. The Cosmos have played exhibitions, including one against Manchester United last year. Without a home, this is the last resort.
Garber has said recently that the Cosmos have their place in MLS, but he seems more inclined now to fill the MLS vacuum in the Southeast U.S. and offer Orlando for the next franchise and 20th team overall in the league.
More than likely, MLS won’t stop at 20 teams as so many other leagues around the world do because the U.S. is that much grander and metropolitan than all other countries.
The league could get as big as 36 teams, who knows; it’s impossible to say for sure.
The problem for the Cosmos is that they may not be the 21st or 22nd team at the pace they’re going. The franchise tag keeps rising for an MLS team. The next team is expected to pay close to $70 million dollars to be granted access to the league (Though it would appear the Cosmos can get a healthy discount due to what they can also bring to MLS in terms of marketing).
It would be great if the Cosmos could go back to their old stomping grounds and help the NASL, soccer’s second division in the U.S. become more stable and prosperous. It’s doubtful this will occur. If not the NASL, than maybe the United Soccer Leagues, soccer’s third division, though this is even more implausible.
The problem is that the Cosmos name is a glorious one, filled with nostalgia and reverie. It is a symbol of pride in all soccer circles.
Playing in a smaller stadium and building the team up from the minor leagues doesn’t resonate well with the Cosmos brand, but it may be the best option to saving the team money and planning for a more viable long-term MLS future.
The minor leagues may not fit the Cosmos reputation, but it may be the best compromise available while all the finer details are getting worked out.
Howard Alperin is Managing Editor of AmericanizeSoccer.com