By Ridge Mahoney
So, we can finally toss this absurd notion of the Cosmos joining MLS out the window. Hooray!
Through a unique partnership with teams from two different sports, Manchester City and the New York Yankees, MLS has forged an alliance by which an expansion team, New York City FC, joins MLS. Included in the joint venture is a stadium project that has yet to be finalized, but along with the announcement came confirmation the team will start its MLS existence in 2015 whether or not that project is completed.
New York City FC will play MLS games somewhere early in 2015. That’s less than two years away, which is a shorter time span than it’s taken the Cosmos to play a real game since its ballyhooed launch in 2010. First envisioned as a touring all-star team, and brazen enough to sign the likes of Cobi Jones and Pele and Shep Messing and Eric Cantona as ambassadors, the Cosmos were soon linked to MLS though league officials steadfastly remained noncommittal.
It took a while but the Cosmos bandwagon gradually lost momentum. That’s what happens when there are no staff members to sell tickets, or players to excite the fans, or games for them to watch. The Cosmos designed and advertised uniforms and golf shirts without ever putting an actual player into them.
After a re-organization and departure of several executives, the Cosmos got down to the business of being a soccer team instead of a marketing phantom. Former MetroStar Giovanni Savarese is the head coach, ex-Red Bulls managing director Eric Stover is the chief operations officer, and the Cosmos will start play in the current NASL this summer.
As confirmed in a teleconference call with media members Tuesday, MLS has taken a radically different path. League commissioner Don Garber, Manchester City CEO Ferran Soriano, and Yankees president Randy Levine outlined ambitious plans for a joint venture that includes a stadium project as well as the 20th MLS team. The Cosmos were not mentioned.
Yet as recently as last year’s MLS Cup, there were references in news stories about the Cosmos joining MLS as its 20th team. Many such mentions came from the English press, dispatched to cover the David Beckham angle if nothing else. One representative went so far as to ask a question couched along the lines of “David Beckham’s league.”
If perception is reality, misconceptions can seem pretty real as well. Fans and journalists seemed incapable of letting the Cosmos go, to acknowledge there wasn’t any real substance behind the grandiose plans and glittering names attached to the modern iteration. MLS has its shortcomings and erred many times, but never did it tilt in the Cosmos direction as a viable New York option even as the months and years dragged by since Garber’s initial confirmation of the league’s determination to place a team in the city proper.
A week or so after Beckham helped the Galaxy win its second consecutive MLS Cup, reports surfaced in England that Manchester City owner Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan had been in contact with league officials regarding a New York MLS franchise. A month later, in January, came word that MLS had registered several domain names along the variations of New York City FC. Not until Tuesday, though, did a segment of the soccer universe finally accept an MLS without the Cosmos.
On Tuesday’s conference call, naturally, a question came regarding Beckham’s involvement with the New York team. Though he has an agreement with MLS to buy in at a reduced price of $25 million, he cannot buy into a New York team at that price. Soriano stated adamantly there’s been no contact with Beckham regarding this venture. (With the man who brought Beckham to MLS, Tim Leiweke, set up in Toronto, that might make sense.)
Misconceptions, like old habits, die hard. The Cosmos were glamorous and unique and absolutely of a bygone era. MLS isn’t nearly as sexy, but like a devoted partner long on commitment, it’s ideal for the long haul.