ATLANTA – The New York Cosmos’ coronation as champions of the North American Soccer League was accomplished against a backdrop of criticism that a team missing half of the season could be eligible for a Soccer Bowl berth.
The Carolina Railhawks compiled the NASL’s highest aggregate points total during this year’s new split-season format with the Tampa Bay Rowdies second overall. Neither team featured in last Saturday’s championship decider between the Atlanta Silverbacks, the spring champions, and the Cosmos, the fall winners.
NASL commissioner Bill Peterson admits that the competition’s structure is under constant evaluation. Future enlargement may force a rethink, but for now the league is delighted with its format.
“The split season is absolutely magnificent because it puts pressure on the coaches and players to play every match for three points,” Peterson told The Soccer Observer during Soccer Bowl weekend.
“You can’t walk out of a game in the NASL with a tie thinking it’s a great result.
“We had 15 matches this year decided in the last five minutes and that’s great excitement for the fans.”
Atlanta earned the right to host this year’s Soccer Bowl when the Silverbacks overtook Carolina on the spring season’s final weekend. New York’s path was less arduous after rejoining the NASL for the fall season. Head coach Giovanni Savarese quickly welded his talented players into a formidable side that romped clear after an 11-game unbeaten run.
“How they’ve developed over the last couple of months is an incredible story,” said Peterson, a former president of NFL Europe.
“You bring these guys together that didn’t know each other a year ago and they’ve played as well as they have.
“You can have talent, but if you don’t have chemistry you’re not going to win.
“They were able to build team chemistry, so they earned their spot in the Soccer Bowl without a doubt.”
The Cosmos have played down accusations of favoritism with chief operating officer Erik Stover emphasizing the club’s modest playing budget that matches most NASL opponents. A hefty legacy and one less chance to qualify for the Soccer Bowl were two major hurdles that the New York franchise also overcame to win its first championship since 1982.
Yet the memories of yesteryear and the triumphs of Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and Giorgio Chinaglia leaves an enduring interest that arguably gives the Cosmos greater worldwide clout than any team in Major League Soccer.
“They’ve got a following that’s global,” Peterson said. “And those people around the world are now curious to see what these guys are up to this time.”
Interest in the NASL is set to expand next year with three new franchises joining the league in Indianapolis, Ottawa and Virginia. Jacksonville and Oklahoma City will follow in 2015 to increase the league’s membership to 13 teams. Peterson has previously expressed a vision of reaching 18 to 20 teams by 2018.
Whether the Puerto Rico Islanders will return to the fold in time for next season is still unclear with the league set to finalize its scheduling by the end of November.
“They’re desperate to get something done, but it’s not in place yet,” Peterson said. “They have people lined up, and it’s a matter of whether they make the commitment or not.
“The passion for soccer is growing in Puerto Rico. It’s overtaken baseball down there, so it would be great for that whole region to have a team.”
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