Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Cosmos are back

It's not MLS ball, but it's close.

On Thursday, the N.A.S.L., which is now a Division 2 league in North America, approved the entry of the Cosmos to the league for the 2013 season. The club, which has not been a bona fide team in more than 30 years, will play its matches at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. The back-to-the-future threads are inescapable because the latter-day Cosmos once also called Hofstra home, long before the team ended up in Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., playing to packed houses before it all came crumbling down after the 1984 season.

If you want to know what I think, go here. That well sums up my thoughts on the Cosmos' prospects as an MLS squad. But what of their prospects as an NASL one?

The rumors on this one were flying well in advance. MLS snapped up several domain names related to a second New York side, and the tea leaves for a time seemed to lead us to those damnable Cosmos-to-MLS rumors. We know now that was false, as it always would have been. The Cosmos are in no position to jump straight from gorging on chili cheese fries in the concessions area to the 100 free with Michael Phelps.

The Cosmos have several disadvantages working against them, none more crippling than the inevitable MLS links. Every slip — and there will be slips — will be a perceived step away from future MLS prospects, and the court of public opinion will not be particularly kind despite what may seem fair. NYRB fans are oddly spiteful on this matter. Plus, the ongoing stadium issue threatens to kneecap this adventure at every corner.

The biggest problem I see has nothing at all to do with MLS or the Cosmos as an entity but rather the relative weakness of the NASL in a business sense. I've long been a proponent of an NASL-USL merger in some capacity because neither league is strong enough to hold its head above water on its own. Gate sales for both leagues are poor, the soccer cultures enveloping the teams are generally non-existent and MLS teams are increasingly turning to reserve teams to fill roster spots. There are exceptions. Orlando City, Rochester, Wilmington, Charleston and Richmond are all USL Pro sides with good to reasonable past attendance figures, which creates merger options. And a number of NASL sides acquitted themselves well against their MLS big brothers in USOC action this year. As is, the model framework is okay but the core of support is not. The problem is NASL commish David Downs is apparently at loggerheads with MLS brass over how to move forward. Downs wants MLS reserve sides to have NASL affiliations. MLS is obviously balking. I'm all for condensing USSL tiers and creating fewer, stronger feeder leagues.

There are only eight NASL teams, and the Cosmos, who join in 2013, make nine. Ottawa joins the next year for an even 10. The trouble is whether the Cosmos will find the ground in NASL fertile enough to jump-start any sort of legitimate MLS campaign, seeing as we all know that's where this is going. Teams have made the lower tier-to-MLS jump gracefully (see Seattle), so it's not impossible. But the difference here is that the Cosmos are resuming operations after an absence of nearly 30 years and the club's infrastructure is watery to the point of absurdity. This is ultimately the way it had to be done if it's going to be done at all, but I have doubts that this will lead to anything but disappointment for erstwhile Cosmos fans (and who are these strange people?) pining for eventual admittance into MLS.

- Will Parchman


WilkersonMclaser said...

Will, great post.

Cosmos news aside, would you mind expanding your thoughts on sub-first tier leagues? I can't help but think that many of our youth development problems have some kind of 2nd or 3rd tier league solution, if the infrastructure/resources and vision were there.

I've always thought that many of the NASL/USL markets could and should sustain strong crowds and raucous fan culture. And we've seen snippets of that with Orlando, Minnesota, Austin, and Rochester. But nothing like what MLS teams have been able to command. In a way, of course, that's normal, but I can't help but figure that a promotion/relegation system could change a lot of that.

Before I get attacked, let me make it clear that I AM NOT ADVOCATING FOR PRO-REL WITH/FROM MLS. AT ALL.

At all!

I'm just pointing out that being in a lower-echelon stasis almost definitely saps fan enthusiasm. I think we can make up for this somewhat with infrastructure and quality of play, but it will always play a part.

The alternative, to me, is clear. If we can't go with a European-style promotion/relegation system, why not do a better job borrowing from our baseball brethren and more explicitly develop a farm team model? An association with a recognizable, relatively regionally-proximate MLS club could do wonders for marketing.

It's already happened in fits and starts around the league. Philly's ties to Reading (PDL) and Harrisburg (USL) have done some great things for player development, movement, and fan support. But even they have room for improvement.

Maybe fodder for another post?

Will Parchman said...

The problem with turning lower divisions into farm systems isn't just a question of economics (which is real) but fan support. I can't imagine fans of the independent Carolina RailHawks having the same fervency if it suddenly became in essence a fake professional team full of DC United reserves called United 2 or something. People would still show up to games, but I can see the surrounding culture suffering dearly. Were that to happen league-wide I think the effect would be devastating.

The pro/rel system is a long way off. I'm not a proponent of it and don't see its value yet. The way things are going it may be there some day, but not yet.

It's a morass, honestly. And it looks this way because there hasn't been an easily solution to the issue, not necessarily because the guys pulling the strings are incompetent. These are just new problems.

I have some ideas in the hopper for a future post but I'd like to develop them before pushing them out into the public purview. That's coming though.

WilkersonMclaser said...

Well, I think it would have to be regulated a little more tightly than the way it works in MLB -- not to mention that MLS is organizationally distinct from USL/NASL.

You would want something where loan terms are set and a little less ad hoc than the way they work in MLB, certainly, but I doubt that the farm system would drain fan support (which, let's face it, is largely poor).

I'll bring up Philly again, since that's the team I know best. But I can't imagine the idea of loaning a recently-recovered Roger Torres to Harrisburg for a term to regain match form would damage fan interest. Quite the opposite.

Joe Dirt said...


Will Parchman said...

Indeed, there are positives to it, and I'm sure there is a workaround that can tie these clubs together loosely. But for me, the way forward involves independent entities. If they work out informal arrangements involving loan spells then that's their right, but I'd rather keep some of these clubs largely autonomous and improve the financial posture of the league itself rather than overhaul the thing on an individual club level. If that involves some fiscal collusion from MLS then so be it.

One way or the other the lower tiers are going to need a boost from MLS. I can't see a way around it. Whether or not that involves direct linkage between teams is a hypothetical bridge that I doubt we'll cross any time soon, but everything is on the table as far as I'm concerned.

dikranovich said...

will, i have to take exception to some of the things you are saying. "fake professional team" is that like a leading statement, or what, in essence, i mean.

well, at least you aint calling alessandro nesta, alexander, or calling segunda division, la liga 2

Tom said...

One of my favorite barroom arguments.