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