The New York Cosmos making the championship game of the North American Soccer League, Soccer Bowl, is nothing new. The mega-team of the 1970s and early 1980s that featured Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Georgio Chinaglia, Carlos Alberto, Vladislav Bogicevic and Andranik Eskandarian appeared in the match six times, winning five.
But that was years ago. The rebirth of the NASL as the United States' and Canada's second division, behind Major League Soccer, is now in its third season. When the league kicked off its third season, only seven teams comprised it. The new New York Cosmos joined the league in August for the fall season.
Traditionally, new teams tend to struggle. But there are exceptions to the rule. Western Sydney Wanderers of Australia's A-League won the regular-season title in their inaugural season and lost in the Grand Final to Central Coast Mariners. The Chicago Fire of MLS not only won the league title in their first season, they pulled the double by winning the U.S. Open Cup as well.
Now the Cosmos can add themselves to the list of instant successes. Led by coach Giovanni Savarese, New York clinched the Fall Season championship with a game to spare.
By winning the Fall Season, the Cosmos earned a spot in Soccer Bowl, which will be played November 9th in Atlanta against the Spring Season champion Silverbacks.
A team that didn't even play the first 12 matches of the season will be playing for the league championship. Is that really fair or good for the league?
Despite being rather strange, the Cosmos playing in the championship despite the unusual circumstances is fair and good for the league.
Split season championships aren't anything unusual. Most leagues in Central and South America have "apertura" and "clausura" seasons. Some leagues keep dual champions, while others have a playoff between the two season winners for the ultimate champion.
Granted, those leagues generally don't have the teams change in the middle of the season. But the Cosmos joining halfway through really isn't an advantage. They shouldn't be treated any differently than a team that finished bottom of the table in the first half, only to rally to win the second half.
The cache of the Cosmos brand and the New York market giving the fledgling NASL some much-needed exposure. If the Tampa Bay Rowdies or the Carolina RailHawks won the Fall Season to face Atlanta, would the league be getting the exposure it is now?
That exposure will be key as the league is slated to bring in five expansion teams over the next two seasons—Indianapolis (Indy Eleven), Northern Virginia (Virginia Cavalry) and Ottawa (Ottawa Fury) in 2014; Oklahoma City and Jacksonville in 2015.
The early success of the Cosmos does bring up the fear that the team will dominate the NASL for years to come. With no promotion or relegation to and from MLS, the Cosmos would be able to win title after title, which may ultimately harm the league. The NASL currently has no salary cap or other restrictions to keep parity within the league.
But as soccer in the United States continues to grow and become more popular, more quality professional teams are needed to give players opportunities and fans more chances to see the beautiful game in person. A country as large as the U.S. needs more than a 24-team top league, as many soccer fans still do not live within 100 miles of a high-level pro team.
Despite the fears of a dynasty in the making, the NASL needs the Cosmos to be successful to make the league attractive for years to come.