U.S. Soccer: Why the New York Cosmos Must Be the 20th Team in the MLS

Tommy FavaloroContributor IIIJune 10, 2011

U.S. Soccer: Why the New York Cosmos Must Be the 20th Team in the MLS

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    NEW YORK - AUGUST 01:  A general view of atmosphere is seen before the announcement of the return of The New York Cosmos at Flushing Meadows Corona Park on August 1, 2010 in New York City.  (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for the New York Cosmos)
    Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

    The New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League were the most successful and most famous team in American soccer history.

    Founded in 1971, the Cosmos dominated the competition in their heyday, winning five titles and making the playoffs virtually every year. They regularly beat up on teams 5-0 and put on a show for the 70,000 plus people who packed Giants Stadium.  The atmosphere was incredible for each game, with fans showing up hours before the game to tailgate in the Giants Stadium parking lot.

    Millionaire and president of the Cosmos Steve Ross went to great lengths to put together a star-studded team every year. He broke the bank for Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto, Giorgio Chinaglia, and many other world-class soccer players. He helped put the Cosmos on the map with his bold acquisitions, and did all he could to make soccer the most popular sport in New York.

    Former-goalkeeper Shep Messing to this day says that the Cosmos were more famous than the Yankees during the ‘70s. Pele and company were often seen partying with rock stars like Mick Jagger in New York City clubs. The team was a circus, but it didn’t matter because they won games.

    Eventually the enormous budget of the Cosmos, the repeated success of the team each and every year, and the head scratching decisions to expand to cities like Edmonton, Calgary, and Las Vegas, diminished the competition and lost the interest of Americans.

    Owners in other markets could not compete with New York, leading to a huge gap in the quality of play by teams not named the New York Cosmos.  While Cosmos domination was enjoyable for New Yorkers, it became a bit repetitive for fans of other teams.

    Ultimately, what led to the demise of the NASL was the retirement of legendary Pele. After he hung up the cleats, there wasn’t that Pele-type superstar to carry on the legacy of the team and draw enough interest from the average soccer fan.  Attendance began to decline and ratings were at their lowest until the league finally dissolved in 1985.

    All that was left for the Cosmos was the name. Years after they folded, fans from everywhere in the world still reminisce on the glory years of the team. Attempts to bring the Cosmos to the MLS in 1996 failed as the league had to resort to naming New York’s franchise the New York/New Jersey MetroStars.  Former Cosmos General Manager Peppe Pinton refused to sell the team name to the MLS for fear that it would not carry on the rich legacy that the Cosmos left in the ‘80s.

    After a twenty-four year absence, however, the Cosmos are back. The name was sold in 2009, and as of now the team is starting up again with the intention of joining the MLS as the 20th franchise in 2013.

    The speculation is that the team will be owned by Mets owner Fred Wilpon and based in Queens, but the recent financial problems of the Wilpon’s are putting this in doubt.

    The team already has a logo, a uniform, several high-profile employees such as Eric Cantona, Cobi Jones, and Giovanni Saverese, and it has a youth team that will compete in the under-23 Premier Development League.

    While it is not a definite that New York will be granted a second MLS franchise, here are three reasons why Don Garber has to make the Cosmos an MLS franchise.

1. The Name

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    There is this mystique and sort of aura about the Cosmos name that brings back the memories of Pele, Chinaglia, Beckenbauer, and Carlos Alberto. The Cosmos name is the epitome of greatness, a tradition of champions, and a legacy that will forever be remembered. This country has since never had a group of stars like New York had in the NASL days.

    My father tells me stories of 70,000 Cosmos fans at Giants Stadium watching as Pele and Chinaglia scored goal after goal. He tells me how the entire New York/Metropolitan area was mesmerized by the Cosmos, and how soccer was bigger than baseball or football in New York back in the day, and how this team used to tour the globe and go toe-to-toe with teams like AC Milan and Barcelona.

    It’s hard to believe now, but that’s just how it was back then. The Cosmos offered something for everyone. Each nationality was represented. Italian immigrants like my father got to watch Chinaglia, Brazilians saw Pele, Germans rooted for Beckenbauer, and Americans idolized Shep Messing. It was a show that tens of thousands of people got to see first-hand in East Rutherford.

    I know many others will agree with me when I say that this team has too much history to never play meaningful soccer ever again. The great Cosmos name cannot be downgraded to a USL or PDL team that plays for fun on the weekends. It’s simply an insult to the history of the team to not have them play professional soccer after what they did for the game decades ago.

    Just think of people like my father who used to watch the Cosmos every game and who witnessed them in person. These people are still around and they still know the Cosmos name. Regardless of who is on the team, every single soccer fan in this country and every single person around the world knows about the Cosmos. The name alone will attract fans in droves no matter where in the New York/Metropolitan area the team is based.

    This team is like the Yankees of American soccer, and its history must live on in the MLS.

2. The Rivalry

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    HARRISON, NJ - MARCH 20:  Fans cheer as the New York Red Bulls play the Santos FC on March 20, 2010 at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images for New York Red Bulls)
    Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    Rivalries make for great publicity and high viewership. Yankees vs. Red Sox, Packers vs. Bears, Lakers, vs. Celtics, and Barcelona vs. Real Madrid. These intense rivalries often set the stage for physical play, clutch play, and memorable moments.

    Rivalries are extremely beneficial to any sport because just as there is a hero, there must be a villain. Fans love to hate teams like the Miami Heat and the New York Yankees. It gives them a reason to watch.

    A potential New York rivalry game will be a huge deal, as New York is arguably the biggest media market in the country. Eric Cantona is already taking shots at the Red Bulls, saying that they aren’t a real soccer team. A game between the Red Bulls and Cosmos would boost viewership and increase each team’s fan base as each group of fans will become more passionate about their geographical team.

    MLS already has some great rivalry games. There is the Super Classico between the LA Galaxy and Chivas USA, there are the rivalries between the three teams in the Pacific Northwest, there is the Rocky Mountain Cup, Philly vs. New York, and many others. Each game is usually shown primetime on ESPN, giving the average American an opportunity to watch the beautiful game.

    While the Red Bulls struggle to sell-out their brand new stadium game in and game out, a potential rivalry game with the Cosmos will only benefit the Red Bulls in that respect. The competition will be good for both teams just as it is in Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver. The Red Bulls and Cosmos will fight for New York bragging rights, ultimately resulting in big-name players being broke in to play for both teams.

    Each team will want to win, but ultimately the fans will win when they see some of the best players in the world go head-to-head in the New York rivalry. You know for sure that both teams will have money to spend. This should intrigue the MLS which already reaps the benefit of having guys like Beckham, Henry, and Donovan play in the league.

3. Beneficial to the U.S. National Team

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    Cosmos academy
    Cosmos academyNeilson Barnard/Getty Images

    Upon accepting the job as Cosmos Director of Soccer in January, Eric Cantona made clear his intention of creating the best youth soccer academy in United States, and creating a solid foundation for American soccer that the Cosmos failed to do back in the NASL.

    Cantona turned down various job offers from teams throughout Europe but was excited to take on this project. Coming from a legendary player like Cantona, it is extremely exciting to hear his goals. In an interview with ESPN, he stated his desire to have the Cosmos academy become the best in the country within 5 years. He also emphasized how he wants six or seven players on the U.S. national team to be from the Cosmos academy, and how he believes the Cosmos can help the United States win the World Cup down the road.

    If you are curious and want to see the academy play, then you can witness the team practice at Aviator Sports Complex in Brooklyn. You will see Cantona, Cobi Jones, and Savarese hard at work developing the future of American soccer.

    You don’t have to be a Cosmos fan to be excited about them possibly becoming the 20th MLS franchise. If you are a true American who watches every friendly, qualifier, or tournament, then you want the Cosmos to join in 2013.

4. Geography

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    Flushing, Queens (Home of the 1964 World's Fair)
    Flushing, Queens (Home of the 1964 World's Fair)Robert Laberge/Getty Images

    There are people who might worry about a second New York franchise taking fans away from the New York Red Bulls. But as a Red Bulls supporter from Brooklyn, New York, I can tell you that a good majority of the fans who attend games regularly at Red Bull Arena are New Jersey natives. New Yorkers from the boroughs have to pay tolls, sit through traffic, and cross the river to watch a Red Bulls game.

    The Red Bulls might be called a New York team, but they play in New Jersey. If the Cosmos decide to play in Queens, it is the perfect location for a soccer team. Home to a very diverse population, Queens is inhabited by tons of different nationalities speaking over 140 different languages. One thing that each and every person understands no matter what language they speak, is soccer.

    Citi Field, home of the New York Mets, hosted its first ever soccer match June 7th, and it was a huge success. Despite the mediocre competition between Greece and Ecuador in a friendly game, 39,656 soccer-crazy fans showed up.

    In July, Citi Field will also play host to a soccer match between Italian giants Juventus, and Mexican side Club America. With these two games and any future soccer that will be played in Queens, the Cosmos can show the MLS how big soccer is in this city.

    There’s a reason why the 1964 World’s Fair was held in Flushing, Queens. A team in Flushing would attract fans from all over the city. Fans will come from Queens, Long Island, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Manhattan, and possibly Staten Island (though Red Bull Arena is closer). 

    Fans from overseas might even come to see the team that was one of the best in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Just a train ride away, fans can take the 7 line from Manhattan or the Long Island Railroad and watch a soccer game in Queens. 

    Whether they play at Citi Field or build their own stadium, the Cosmos will do extremely well in Queens. Not that many people know about how big soccer is in Corona, or how big it is in Long Island. The MLS will realize exactly this if they award the Cosmos the 20th franchise in the MLS.

5. The Stars Will Come

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    Just as I have talked about the rich history of the original New York Cosmos, people from all over also recall the success of the former NASL team. Everyone knows Pele to be one of the greatest soccer player’s in history, and everyone knows he played for New York.

    Lionel Messi knows, Cristiano Ronaldo knows, and Xavi knows. It’s no secret to today’s best soccer players. There is always the possibility that these types of players want to experience what Pele experienced back in his day. Maybe they want a bite at the Big Apple.

    I can almost guarantee that the Cosmos will bring in superstars. To call yourselves the Cosmos and not have stars is a contradiction. Whether or not the Designated Player rule remains the same in 2013, the Cosmos will buy at least two stars to compete with L.A. and the Red Bulls.

    Nowadays, there are reports of players interested in playing in America virtually every day. From Wesley Sneijder to Alessasndro Del Piero, to David Trezeguet, I wouldn’t be surprised if superstars come to the Cosmos to put fans in the seats, and more importantly, to win championships.

    Jose Mourinho even declared his desire to one day coach in the MLS. Ever since Beckham paved the road, America has become the next hot trend in soccer. And what other destination would be more exciting for a guy like Ronaldo than New York City and all the attention that it gives superstars?