The New York Cosmos have officially returned to the professional ranks of American soccer… and this time it’s not just for a brief merchandising blitz.
This is a sports franchise that carries a great deal of baggage, some filled with memories of how great it once was, and many others filled with how swiftly it all went wrong. It’s almost impossible to mention the team’s prime years with Pele and co in the late 70’s, without also remembering the massive collapse the club expeditiously experienced in their absence. I personally can’t speak from my own memory, as I’m sure a few of you can, but investigating the historical “black box” of the original Cosmos’ demise still paints a painfully clear picture.
The 70’s incarnation of the NYC soccer franchise, while exciting and magnificent, was also foolishly founded upon the draw of just a couple players. Only in its infancy as a professional club, the Cosmos had struck attention-grabbing gold in their signing of the most famous player on the planet in Pele… but when the brilliant Brazilian left (and Beckenbauer and Alberto soon after),the Cosmos were all of a sudden a top shelf brand with absolutely zero top shelf talent (Chinaglia aside). They had completely neglected the importance of building a solid foundation for sustainable success, and when the famous players left there wasn’t just a mere dip in play/interest… there was absolutely nothing, no one to fill the void. It not only led to the Cosmos’ rapid competitive and financial ruin, but the NASL’s failure as a top-tier league too.
This is why the newly renewed New York Cosmos, headed by chairman/co-owner Seamus O’Brien, must take gradual steps. There is so much potential with the immense television market they inhabit (New York City is about as good as it gets in the American sporting world),that a direct move to the MLS, while enticing, could have been another over-accelerated rise to prominence. Building through the second division NASL, which they will join next year, should allow them to construct from within, build a base, and be competitive in a much more sustainable fashion (without the expectations of immediately living up to their former glory). There is no doubt a team located in NYC, especially one with the already strong Cosmos brand name, will be very high on the MLS’ list of probable expansion teams. In fact, I’m sure it tops it… but allowing the new NASL Cosmos franchise to grow will be mutually beneficial.
Besides, we’ve already seen what the MLS looks for in potential expansion teams. Just take a look at the Vancouver Whitecaps, Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders, they all worked through the NASL, and when they were ready to handle the greater expectations and financial burden of the MLS they were brought up. The MLS seems much too wary of damaging their image and legitimacy to promote a team rashly without thinking of the possible consequences.
So unless the NY Cosmos come out next year with an unexpectedly talented roster and a strong youth academy to support it, they shouldn’t even be in consideration for the MLS’ 20th expansion spot. They must prove, unequivocally, that they are a long-term franchise before we can start placing them above other (and right now much more deserving) lower division teams like the San Antonio Scorpions, Minnesota Stars and Orlando City.
Of course, they do continue to wield the most coveted media market in the USA, so even if they are mediocre to disappointing at their initiate, they will undoubtedly remain a major talking point in the MLS’ future no matter what… but for sustained success to prevail, growing into themselves first will be crucial.