Lost in the shuffle of this huge deal for New York City FC (all hail our City overlords!) are the Cosmos, who have now gone from hoping to one day be the city's second team to hoping against hope that one day in the distant future the league assumes a pro/rel structure.
It seems only appropriate now to look back on my piece from last year on the Cosmos' strange history and how now they must enjoy life in the second tier more than ever. Life in the Cosmos command pod has always been stranger than fiction. The events that unfolded today only enhance the narrative.
No vaguely theoretical, gently whispered idea has captured the
imagination of MLS' fine court of public opinion quite like the
widely-rumored return of the New York Cosmos. Those New York Cosmos.
The first men to wear the finery of American soccer's mosaic quilt of
popular support faded into the background after the club's agonizing
death spiral came to a head in 1985, to be heard from (loudly) but never
For background on the thousands of hairline fissures that ultimately broke apart the Cosmos, watch this.
I will not attempt a takedown on the issue itself because it seems as
though the principles involved can't even come to an agreed consensus.
Point is, the Cosmos as they were once known are gone and a motivated
contingent working behind the scenes wants this group back in the public
consciousness very, very badly. The amount of factors that conspired
against this sort of thing ever being feasible is staggering, and yet
the thing persists. Might as well be hobbling into the discussion on two
broken ankles and two bloodied eye sockets, but dammit, the Cosmos are
still here. Welcome to America, soccer. This is how we do things.
The Cosmos have reached a meta-level sort of fame (or infamy depending
on your view of Georgio Chinaglia, may he rest in peace) akin to the
kind experienced by Travel Network cover boy Anthony Bourdain in the new
decade. In some measure, Bourdain has become that which he despises, a
richly content globe-trotting millionaire foodie who issues pithy
complaints about the ubiquity of immaculately prepared fish head curry
(like, please, overstressed Malay backwater dive restaurant with an
amazing recipe passed down since the dinosaurs... at least try
and impress me) while dining in environs that would often kneecap the
pocketbooks of wanna-be denizens not bankrolled by a multinational
corporation. Bourdain is probably so aware of his fame now that it has
ceased to be what it once was and has become a tiger of its own. He is
living a Matryoshka doll life, a world inside a world inside a world
inside... In the same sense, the Cosmos' fame isn't what it appears. It
The Cosmos were the tops, are now the outsiders and desire to be the
tops again. Whether this is even feasible, let alone possible, is a
topic that has always interested me to no end. Here is an organization
attached to a contentious albeit successful history that nonetheless
persevered while simultaneously burning enough bridges to fill the sky
over New York City with ashen clouds of coal-black dust. It is an
amazing story, the one associated with this club. You can't get away
from the intrigue of its birth, the loving portraits of Steve
Ross-as-father-figure, the imposing and untouchable figure of Pele in a
ridiculously puffy mink coat, the brazen Italian named Georgio who
poached goals like Americans had never seen, and in the middle an
unassuming assistant named Peppe who somehow came out of the fracas with the whole thing.
What the hell is there not to like?
There have been mere hints and rumors and rumors of hints that the
Cosmos have any chance of being MLS' coveted 20th club, and the answers
from both parties have been cryptic. What's most interesting to me is
that this issue roars at the nation with the strength of a paper tiger.
Cosmos gear is popping up in stores across the country (I live in Texas
and bought a rebranded Cosmos T-shirt at a Ross the other day for $6),
and yet there is no established consumer support base to snap up the
products. There is a front office, bizarrely headed by Eric Cantona with
Cobi Jones as his deputy, with no first team to manage. Predictably, a
story about the Cosmos trawling up the Trawlerman turned into a story about Cantona himself.
There is a feeder system complete with a youth program, yet it has no
senior team to provide for. Pele and Carlos Alberto and Shep Messing are
there too and nobody is quite sure what it is they do. Or if they
harbor the same doubts as the rest of us.
Twitter is constantly alight with Cosmos rumors, people repeatedly looking to light the signal fires to relay the news that the Cosmos are back.
I've seen rumors sweeping from Red Bull offering to sell the Cosmos'
new management group a 49 percent stake in RBNY to Pele himself fronting
even more money for a new stadium. None of this has been true, not even
the moderate pieces in between. I read the Cantona news five or six
times before I believed it, though that may be because I watched Looking
For Eric and still hold a grudge against the Frenchman for wasting two
hours of my life.
I have issues with this.
It is hard to make a pronouncement one way or the other about something
as surreal as the Cosmos, a Thomas The Tank Engine screaming up a hill
at top speed without an actual engine fastened to the tracks. This whole
thing is there, but not really. What stops me is not necessarily that
the Cosmos have built a house for nobody to live in. If New York is
really to get a second MLS team (or if it is to replace its first), it
helps grease Don Garber's wheels if some of the infrastructure is
already there, and having a name like Pele attached to the thing doesn't
No, my issue is that the Cosmos are nowhere near as relevant as the
Cosmos marketing team seems to think. That is a troubling morsel because
the rebirth of the franchise is based on practically nothing else. The
very reason Pinton refused the sell the team originally was because he
bristled at the idea of throwing away its history in exchange for a
buyer. What he failed to take into account was that a few titles from a
crumbled league that few Americans younger than their mid 30's have ever
seen (or ever desire to see — NASL game tape did not hold up well over
time) does not constitute a rich history in the court of public opinion.
There is no parallel here between franchises like the Whitecaps or the
Timbers because those programs continued operation and slowly built
their bases, the core demographic that American clubs require to be
solvent. The Cosmos simply underwent a supernova and died, replaced upon
the formation of MLS by a MetroStars team that has become one of the
league's big spenders. A number of my New York friends give a passé nod
to the Cosmos and their fleeting impact on soccer Stateside and then are
perfectly fine with wrapping up in a Red Bulls scarf and trudging down
to the palatial Red Bull Arena. It simply doesn't register. They had
their place and time, and it's over. The name doesn't matter. This is a
new soccer world, a new America.
Assuming the particulars are in order, I'm perfectly fine with the
Cosmos joining MLS with all their history in tow. If it makes sense
financially and the stadium situation finds a nice end (which I can't
see happening, but I digress), Garber should have license to go for it.
But the whole thing just feels misshapen, because at the end it is built
around a false premise — that the New York Cosmos' cache has survived
the withering test of time. I don't think it has.
Either way, as with everything in the Cosmos' cosmos, things will be
interesting. With a history like this, how could they not be?
- Will Parchman