Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Meanwhile, at the Cosmos headquarters, tears

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.

Pipe dreams.

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 seen again.

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 is deceptive.

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 hurt.

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


Matt said...

Which inspires more blindness to reality in hopes of return to the glories of yesteryear...The Confederate State of America or the New York Cosmos?

jon said...

Oh man, this was confusing as hell until I realized I was in fact reading the article from a year ago.

Jay said...

"I'm not dead yet!"

Tony M said...

Snake Pilssken. I thought you were dead.

Unknown said...

greg - what ever became of the partnership agreement between the yankees and manchester united? i can only guess that it's no longer in place.