Three months have passed since the New York Cosmos re-entered the North American Soccer League with a fittingly dramatic injury-time win over the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.
On Saturday, the embryonic club competes for its first championship in 31 years in the NASL’s showpiece Soccer Bowl final against the Atlanta Silverbacks.
Clichéd tales of 70,000 crowds at Giants Stadium featuring Mick Jagger and Robert Redford and post-game parties at the famed Studio 54 nightclub might stir memories of American soccer’s enduring 1970s heyday among fans.
The glitz, glamour, excess and success synonymous with Pele and Giorgio Chinaglia among others also leaves a nagging gulf between the marvels of the past and the modesty of the present. That gap has not gone unnoticed at the Cosmos’ Manhattan headquarters as the club begins its long journey back toward the summit of American soccer.
“We’re aware of it, but I don’t think we’re concerned about disappointing the people that make it to our games,” the Cosmos’ chief operating officer Erik Stover told The Soccer Observer in a telephone interview.
“We’re building and we play attractive soccer, probably better than a lot of teams in this country.”
The Cosmos’ possession-based playing style revolves around the team’s biggest name – Marcos Senna, the 37-year-old former Villarreal midfielder that excelled during Spain’s triumph at the UEFA Euro 2008 tournament. Brazilian center-back Roversio and Spanish winger Ayoze supplement Senna’s astuteness with their own experiences from La Liga.
The deep pockets of Sela Sport, the Cosmos’ Saudi Arabian backers, have drawn accusations from fans of rival NASL teams that the New York franchise has bought immediate success. Stover contends that his club’s player budget is in line with other NASL teams.
Getting instant results from a pool of new players was also far from guaranteed, Stover argues. Sunderland, for example, signed 14 players during England’s close season. The Black Cats have subsequently earned four points from the opening 10 Premier League games.
“For us to put 28 guys together and say, ‘Hey, you’re a team, go and win a championship,’ I don’t think people appreciate how difficult that is,” Stover said.
“It’s quite an accomplishment to be where we are.”
The Cosmos’ rebirth against Fort Lauderdale on Aug. 3 was accompanied by the incessant rhythm of beating drums reverberating from a sold-out 11,929 crowd. Atlanta, the NASL’s spring season champion and host of this week’s Soccer Bowl, encountered a different scene five weeks later when it visited the Cosmos’ temporary home on the campus of Long Island’s Hofstra University. Over half of the opening night’s attendees had disappeared.
New York’s average attendance for its seven fall-season home games ended up slightly short of 7,000 – the highest in the NASL despite the drawback of playing 30 miles away from midtown Manhattan. Proposals for a privately funded $400 million mixed-use venue next to Belmont Park racetrack in Queens have been lodged with local planning authorities and the club is awaiting feedback.
A successful relocation would bring the Cosmos greater connectivity to soccer fans in New York City, although that prospect remains a few years away.
“Other professional soccer teams have tried to start in this market and have failed miserably before fading away into oblivion,” Stover said.
“So to come out and do what did this first year, we have to be proud about that.”
Sept. 7, 2013 — SLIDESHOW: New York Cosmos 1 Atlanta Silverbacks 1