We don’t talk about American ‘soccer’ very often on Scheidt’s Footballing Miscellany primarily because, like most American sports, it’s quite impenetrably complicated outside the draw of the few marquee names that are drawn from the sport. Naturally we’re talking Beckham, Donovan, Marquez, Juan Pablo Angel, Thierry Henry et al. However, a certain romanticism remains surrounding the ghosts of soccer past in America.
The North American Soccer League, accompanied by its bombastic American logo, first began in 1968 with a bold 17 teams. By the next year it had decimated by an entire SPL to 5 teams. The embodiment and lasting legacy of American soccer in the 1970s, The New York Cosmos, would not join the league until 1971. Even then their owner, President of Warner Brothers Steve Ross, was mocked in the New York press for attempting to make soccer work in a neglectful America. Enter the $7 million man, Pelé, who came out of retirement with the mission of transforming the fortunes of yet another unsuccessful New York sports team. Real Roy of the Rovers stuff. His arrival was the catalyst of change for the Cosmos as they changed from major insignificance in a nation neglectful of the game into a worldwide phenomenon as stars from all over the globe had aspirations of joining the Cosmos.
These stars joined in Pelé’s final season as a professional footballer in 1977 as the club looked to reward his belief by bringing him one last championship before going into the lucrative world of a viagra salesman. The Cosmos brought in former West Germany World Cup winning captain Franz Beckenbauer, the ex Brazil captain Carlos Alberto and Italy international Giorgio Chinaglia(who would go on to score 242 goals in 254 games). With these signings the Cosmos soon established themselves as the league’s main draw, regular attendances topped 40,000 fans, and best team winning 3 championships in 4 years. Although the Cosmos had now matched their initial ambitions on the pitch, the loss of Pelé soon became an issue for the NASL broadcasters, ABC, even with the arrival of immense talent like Johan Cruyff at the Los Angeles Aztecs, George Best and Teófilo Cubillas at the Fort Lauderdale Strikers and, er, Harry Redknapp at the Seattle Sounders. The Soccer Bowl (Yeah, exactly) had lost it’s glamour and the league was soon forced to fold in 1985 as teams had overspent and become unprofitable- the league’s collapse financially is one of the main reasons that the modern day MLS now enforces a salary cap with the added glamour of up to 3 Designated Players if a team so desires.
In 2011, the United States can boast a relatively successful professional soccer league while its national team are no longer the bad joke that they once were. As the sport has finally turned the corner in a nation why is there a lingering nostalgia for a club who’s overspending and reckless ambition enforced a domino effect that eventually killed the North American Soccer League?
Yes, of course The New York Cosmos are finally making the serious leaps forward to become the MLS’ 20th team in 2013. Earlier this month Eric Cantona signed up to the project as it appealed to him as a sweet blend of “art and football”. Cantona will be in charge of all of the Cosmos “soccer operations” which at the moment is only their Academies on the West and East coasts of the USA. His acquisition has been seen as a signal of real intent on behalf of The Cosmos to, once again, become the dominant force in American soccer. The rest of the Cosmos organisation is made up of former New York soccer legends Giovanni Savarese(of the NY/NJ Metrostars), Giorgio Chinaglia and Pelé while former Liverpool CEO Rick Parry is part of the Board of Directors. A fairly impressive backroom staff for a club yet to play a match since the name rights were bought by the ex Spurs Vice-Chairman Paul Kemsley in 2009.
Members of the board have also publicly stated on the FoxSports channel that “big-name players” from Europe have approached the Cosmos in the hope of playing for them. There is every chance that this is just all part of the PR and politics involved in trying to establish themselves as the 20th MLS club. Another ex France and Manchester United player, Fabien Barthez, has also publicly said that he would be interested in joining a revived Cosmos in a coaching capacity. The Cosmos board are certainly working in overdrive to garner the media’s attention and constantly mentioning that they “want to become the #1 in America”.
However, this is all just noise until a real plan to seriously become an MLS club is revealed. As yet there have only been fancy boardroom appointments with no mention of an expansion fee, a site for a stadium and their decision to have Umbro make their merchandise, rather than MLS partner Adidas, certainly won’t help matters. The New York Cosmos will continue to make bold appointments and a lot of noise for a while but until they are officially accepted into MLS it’s just a few well known folk trying to sell a bunch of shirts based on the “brand” of The Cosmos name. For now, The New York Cosmos are as legitimate a sporting team as The Harlem Globetrotters.