Cosmos Rebirth Runs Into Trouble

By Paul Gardner

It hardly comes as a surprise that the so-called New Cosmos group is in turmoil. The high-flying Paul Kemsley, the hyper-Brit who has been telling everyone that the rebirth of the New York Cosmos which he was supposed to be engineering “is going to be huge.”

Not for Kemsley it’s not. One has watched with impotent amusement as Kemsley has spent a lot of money and made a number of flashy moves -- all of them hugely questionable in terms of promoting the Cosmos image.

Now Kemsley has suffered a huge come-down, the fate of the classical high-flier Icarus, who flew too close to the sun, melted his wings and ended up plummeting into the sea.

The people who have been financing this strange venture -- they are, I believe, from Saudi Arabia -- have had enough of Kemsley’s extravaganzas and extravagances. To take the most obvious examples -- a huge billboard in Times Square, visible for a few days, and immediately forgotten; the signing of Eric Cantona as the club’s Director of Soccer -- someone with no connection whatever with the Cosmos and, anyway, not exactly a big deal in New York; to which was added the decidedly bizarre appointment of Cobi Jones as Cantona’s associate director; and the farcical appearance of a “Cosmos” team to play in Paul Scholes’s testimonial game in Manchester -- a team made up mostly of one-time guest players.

With Kemsley gone, it is not yet clear where that leaves the whole operation. There had already been a falling out among the original group of three Brits who started the whole thing, with Carl Johnson, co-founder of ad agency “Anomaly,” dropping out of the picture.

The Cosmos quickly got themselves involved in youth development -- at least this had the feel of a genuine soccer move -- though the unpredictability and the long-term nature of youth soccer seemed ill-suited to the hustling, all-action, celebrity-oriented style favored by Kemsley.

Deals were signed with two youth clubs: Los Angeles FC on the West Coast, and Blau-Weiss Gottschee in New York -- two of the best clubs in the country. The L.A. deal ended after one year, but the Gottschee partnership is still functioning, perhaps the only part of the Cosmos that is healthy.

There is little reason to doubt that Kemsley, with his garish style, has been a drawback for the Cosmos when it came to what was the key part of the team’s rebirth: getting it accepted into MLS as the league’s 20th team in 2013 or 2014.

Kemsley’s background in real estate has involved lawsuits, and it’s clear that MLS Commissioner Don Garber has never regarded Kemsley as someone he wants to do business with. Garber has always hedged when asked for his opinion on having the reborn Cosmos in the league. A typical answer was: “They need to believe in the MLS system, which is not about one team dominating everybody else, like the Cosmos did 30 years ago. If they don’t believe in our system, we won’t sell them the team.”

That was the way Garber tended to talk when the Cosmos name came up. How much would the franchise cost? Considering that the most recent expansion team, the Portland Timbers, paid a reported $40 million, it seemed likely that the new figure would be around $60 million. But Garber came up with $100 million, which looked to many like a greatly exaggerated figure designed to deter the Cosmos group.

Earlier this month, Garber stated flatly that the Cosmos might not even be an option for the 20th franchise. Responding to that, the Cosmos vice chairman Terry Byrne chose to ignore the snub, and to point out that the Cosmos had been doing a considerable amount of research aimed at solving one of the key requirements for any new MLS franchise: a stadium. In the New York area, that means a considerable expense of building soccer-specific venue.

Byrne stated that viability studies had been done, including one for a stadium on Randall’s Island, but it had been found to be too costly. He added that, “We are willing to work with other ownership groups to build a stadium.” No doubt.

Byrne than added “Randall’s Island has always been our emotional favorite -- as the birthplace of the New York Cosmos.”

Wrong. The Cosmos were not born at Randall’s Island. The team played its first season (1971) at Yankee Stadium, then moved to Hofstra University on Long Island for the next two years. The Cosmos were already 3 years old when they moved to Randall’s Island in 1974.

A slapdash error on Byrne’s part, but one that brings to the surface all the doubts about the credibility of the Cosmos group. My biggest doubt about this whole affair, right from the start, was that the management group consisted of three Brits. The only one who had any prior experience of American soccer was Terry Byrne, David Beckham’s right-hand man at the Galaxy.

It has been my experience, during many decades of involvement with the sport in this country, that when Brits start organizing soccer matters, they are likely to fail -- simply because of an inability to adapt to American ways and a strong desire to impress their fellow Brits. That the first -- and so far only -- appearance of a reborn Cosmos team should have been in England emphasizes the point.

What next? We wait to find out what impact the latest “ownership group” seeking a New York franchise will have. This one is led by Chuck Blazer, soon to be quitting his job as the Concacaf General Secretary, along with former Cosmos goalkeeper Shep Messing and former New York Jets running back Curtis Martin.

18 comments about "Cosmos Rebirth Runs Into Trouble".
  1. cony konstin, October 25, 2011 at 8:30 p.m.

    More gimmicks. Marketing is not going to make magical US born players. Soccer in America doesn't need gimmicks it needs 30,000 futsal courts in our inner cities so future players can envolve from a playing environment and not a gimmicky and smoke n mirror one. The Cosmos either need to go away or be serious.

  2. BC BC, October 25, 2011 at 10:19 p.m.

    >>"More gimmicks. Marketing is not going to make magical US born players."<<. . .

    Given that there's a twisty but patently discernible line that runs from the NASL/Cosmos of the late '70s to the Landon Donovans and Clint Dempseys of the '00s, I'd say this proposition is not as cut and dried as you make it out to be.

    I get your general point: Bells-and-whistles will not alone magically generate American soccer success. But creating a soccer culture requires soccer to be entrenched in the American consciousness, and entrenching in the American consciousness requires many things -- "marketing" and its "gimmicks" among them.

  3. BC BC, October 25, 2011 at 10:23 p.m.

    By the way, my name is Brian Christopher. Not sure how I ended up here with the Stone Age-y sounding handle "BC BC." I'm really a hip Anno Domini kind of guy, honest!

  4. This Guy, October 25, 2011 at 10:30 p.m.

    Ohhhh what a laugh. All this ever was was 20-odd internet nerds puffing their chests out about being the heir to American soccer. Total hogwash.

    Funny how the other link I clicked today on SA is about the USA U-17 team in Spain: "Wesley Wade, one of five players from the New York Red Bulls academy program, led the U-17s with two goals against both Russia and the Valencia academy team."
    That's your real New York team, and once they start winning, which they will, watch out.

    People talk about which teams are phony and about marketing....this is the phoniest and least soccer-related experiment of anything out there.

    Real American soccer fans will continue to build up actual grassroots followings at Jeld-Wen, Red Bull Arena, BMO field, etc.

    Goodbye rejects

  5. BC BC, October 25, 2011 at 10:31 p.m.

    One more meta post, if I may: Paul, one of the reasons I love reading your work is that it has, ya know, paragraph breaks. I wish such luxury were provided to your peanut gallery...

  6. Robert Hak, October 25, 2011 at 11:15 p.m.

    What's the deal with the mentioned ownership group of Messing, Blazer and Martain? I can't say I've heard anything about that.

  7. Kevin Mccrudden, October 25, 2011 at 11:39 p.m.

    Paul. There have been many comments and rumors since the Cosmos resurgence first began breathing.

    We at soccer Long Island Magazine have had a great relationship with the Cosmos organization and if there is a reality that the Cosmos will not become a MLS Club it will be truly heartbreaking.

    As you and almost anyone that has followed you or Soccer America no doubt knows soccer is part of our heritage and culture here on Long Island. It is very difficult for many to make the commute to Harrison, NJ, albeit to an amazing stadium, from Long Island to enjoy a game. The 2.5 commute each way tends to put a damper on it.

    The Cosmos at the empty and newly renovated Hofstra Stadium would be a treat for all Long Islanders as well as an easy commute for people from Queens and Brooklyn.

    Having the NY Cosmos play on Long Island would be welcomed by many and would be nice if a team referred to as a "New York" team actually played in New York and not New Jersey.

    This will be very sad if the demise of the Cosmos is true, but in the end, I hope they put a team on Long Island, not on Randall's Island, another nightmare commute.

    Thanx for all you have done for Soccer in America Paul!

  8. Guy LA, October 26, 2011 at 8:08 a.m.

    Yeah, the MLS totally ought to reintegrate the franchise that killed the first Major Soccer League in America. No thanks. Terry Byrne and his cronies are flash and no substance. If you're too lazy to commute to NYRB games I really don't think you should call yourself a soccer fan. It'd be great to have a team inside the city, but if you're loyalty comes down to having to drive an hour or an hour and a half to see live soccer you really won't care much about the league anyway or you're just a spoiled fairweather NY fan used to typical moneyball and because RBNY isn't successful you want to make up excuses so you don't have to like them. I really hope this whole thing fails. You can't just purchase the naming rights and claim a direct line of history. The Cosmos are dead, and ought to remain so. They killed soccer once, let's not let the franchise comeback to haunt us once again.

  9. Matthew Conroy, October 26, 2011 at 10:53 a.m.

    Thought for sure you'd work an unwarranted criticism of RBNY into your column again this week, Paul. Congrats for showing restraint.

  10. cony konstin, October 26, 2011 at 11:04 a.m.

    Forget about soccer success. I am talking about passion for the game. The only way that soccer can become passionate in the US is by creating a playing environment that is free without any coaches or refs, and 7 days a week. When we have 5 year olds playing 7 days a week then we will create passionate players. Until then we will continue to have more gimmicks and smoke n mirrors. This is not rocket science. 30,000 futsal courts is meat and potatoes to help develop the soccer in the US. When I was in Spain a few months back the President of the Spanish Soccer Federation told us that one of the main reasons why Spain won the world cup is because of futsal. Please everyone have your wives, husbands, sons, daughter, coaches, assistant coaches and everyone else must see this. Is this the greatest team goal ever scored? You decide... The greatest team goal ever scored......
    1minute 34 seconds of uninterrupted possession, all 11 players touch the ball and there are 42 passes before the goal scored. This is how we all need to strive to play.

    One day the US can play just like this but until then we will continue to get bombarted by doggie and pony shows.

  11. Ted Westervelt, October 26, 2011 at 11:29 a.m.

    Another giant marketing opportunity missed by MLS, and unpunished by US Soccer. Paul, this is not the fault of some nefarious businessman. If that was a problem for Garber, he wouldn't be working with people who dealt directly with Bernie Madoff. The MLS system of profit before product is Madoffesque, and our servile US Soccer leadership - paid for and authorized by MLS - not our federation, is directly at fault. Fact is, the zombie Cosmos are still the most recognized US club in the world. Throwing them under the bus for the benefit of MLS is evidence of a system that is corrupt and broken to the core.

  12. cony konstin, October 26, 2011 at 12:07 p.m.

    Superman it is not the greatest goal but maybe the greatest goal ever scored collectively as a team. Tedious is not the right word. Pain is the a@@ is the proper word. Remember with me it is a mantra US SOCCER REVOLUTION!!!!! Futsal === future US Soccer Players. No more smoke n mirrors. Cosmos = smoke n mirrors.

  13. cony konstin, October 26, 2011 at 12:29 p.m.

    Ted The MLS is here to stay for awhile. Like it or hate it. I have had many of my players play in it and for them it is and has been a fun run. Pesonally I am hoping that the MLS wakes up quickly and start developing a master plan to develop US born superstars. They need to start with 5 year olds ASAP. So in 10 years they will have some incredible players. Otherwise if they don't do that then they will become the NASL of the past. A league full of foreingers and very few USONIANS. It is not the job of Youth soccer in America to make professionals. That job should be done by the MLS but the MLS needs to start with 5 years and not 15 years old (VIA US Soccer Academy). If there is anything that we can learn from the Cosmos is what made the them unique and that was the quality of their players. Then we need to start developing those types of players.

  14. cony konstin, October 26, 2011 at 12:48 p.m.

    Superman That is your opinion. But it has developed great players. Pele, Robiniho, Ronaldo, Ronaldihno, Xavi, Inesta, and many others have played futsal. I have never said that it is the only answer nor did the President of Spanish FA. But as I said before he did say that Futsal is one of the reasons why Spain won the world cup in Soccer. It is find you don't care for futsal but every kid that I have ever introduce the game to has enjoyed playing it immensely. And there is no doubt in my mind that futsal is what we need to have in our soccer culture. FIFA's new mantra. "FUTSAL is part of FOOTBALL".

  15. M. Nunez, October 26, 2011 at 12:48 p.m.

    I have to dissagree with you Super Man. Check out the skills on any of the top Brazilian players and you'll know how important Futsal is to a player's skill development. Also, I can't fathom how you could make the statement that futsal is "dull to play, coach and watch". I get to watch lots of futsal games, as my son is involved (during the cold months), and it's a joy watching talented players showing off moves that are usually not seen outdoors.

  16. BC BC, October 26, 2011 at 8:48 p.m.

    >>"The only way that soccer can become passionate in the US is by creating a playing environment that is free without any coaches or refs, and 7 days a week."<< I love this notion that a "passionate" "environment" can just be "created" (by whom, incidentally? the All-Powerful American Soccer God?), yet real people who actually ARE working and investing in the U.S. soccer world are decried as gimmicky "dog-and-pony" showmen. Grow up. You too, Westervelt.

  17. Guy LA, October 27, 2011 at 4:28 a.m.

    Sorry Ted, the LA Galaxy is the most recognized American team in the world currently. Hilarious how you're touting some populist garbage "it's all about profit." Do you even know who is in the Cosmos organization? Terry Byrne doesn't give a crap about "making the game pure." If you believe that, you're just another sucker. The Cosmos are dead, and deservedly so. May they remain dead forever. Maybe NY doesn't deserve a soccer team if they refuse to support the NYRB's. If you're willing to drive to New Jersey for a football game, you ought to feel the same about a soccer match.

  18. Gak Foodsource, October 27, 2011 at 6:51 p.m.

    I think this is too harsh, Paul. I don't like their style either but it's not enough of a reason to disparage the organization. If they go bankrupt tomorrow, or try to form a mutinous NASL league to compete against MLS, they would have done something to merit such criticism. I don't think Garber's recent comments on the Cosmos differ markedly from his initial comments about the Cosmos and MLS' 20th franchise. Moreover, I was under the impression that every MLS franchise could only have 1 youth academy, hence the reason they jettisoned the LA acquisition.

    The one aspect I've always liked about the Cosmos is that they are doing things their own way. Development of American players ultimately will not come from the USSF or MLS - it has to come from the teams themselves. And the teams need the incentive to develop those players. Allow MLS teams to compete (no MLS draft, no league allocation of Designated players; teams get to sign whoever they want.) Allow the fans to pick the team they want to watch. I don't think fans will pick the teams with the nicest Umbro uniforms or the team with Eric Cantona on the sidelines - I think they will pick the team that plays the best soccer. (Unless of course you think that Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Man United have the nicest uniforms. I myself don't think its a coincidence that those three clubs have the largest followings in terms of membership in the world.) That fact would force teams to develop better players and institute the types of changes (futsal) that will make a difference in American soccer.

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