The sad end of the NASL Cosmos

It would be nice to be able to say that the New York Cosmos (their NASL incarnation, that is) ended their days in the glamorous way of their best days, that they went down with their heads high and their expressions defiant. Unfortunately, that was not the case. The decline and fall of the Cosmos was not a heroic story. It really began in 1982, but its last stages, in 1984 and 1985, were the particularly grim ones.

The Cosmos were one of four NASL teams who played in the Major Indoor Soccer League in its 1984-85 season, and they had a terrible time, both on the field and on the balance sheet. On Feb. 22, 1985, they announced that they were withdrawing from the MISL. Their record was 11-22 and their debts for the season were reported as high as $2 million. Two weeks later, they announced that they weren't going to pay their 1985 NASL performance bond. On March 13, the Cosmos were expelled from the NASL, and nine days after that the league itself closed up shop.

In May and June of 1985, the Cosmos attempted to go it alone as an exhibition team. They played three games at Giants Stadium. A 2-2 tie with Independiente of Argentina on May 27 was a good start. A 2-0 win over Sporting Lisbon of Portugal on June 9 had them looking like they might have a future. A 2-1 loss to Lazio of the Italian second division on June 16, with a brawl on the field and only 8,677 spectators in the huge stadium, convinced them to give up the ghost. Team president Giorgio Chinaglia, who also was president of Lazio at that point, departed for Italy the next day, and the folding of the team was announced four days after that.

Those events are fairly well known. Less well publicized is the nosedive that happened to the Cosmos at the end of the 1984 NASL season, the NASL's last, as they attempted to qualify for the four-team playoffs and win their fifth league title in eight seasons. With three games left, they held a solid lead in their division standings over the second-place Toronto Blizzard, who had only one game left, and the third-place Chicago Sting, who had two left. They seemed to be coasting toward the playoffs, for which the first two finishers in each division were to qualify.

Because of the NASL's bizarre system of standings points and the fact that the three teams had played different numbers of games, it is extremely hard to express the standings situation in easily understood numbers. The situation from the Cosmos' point of view was quite clear, however. In order for the Cosmos to miss the playoffs, they had to lose all three of their remaining games (two of which were against teams that were already mathematically eliminated), while Toronto was winning its lone remaining game and Chicago was winning both of its two. In other words, all six of those results had to go against the Cosmos. And that is exactly what happened. It has to be one of the classic end-of-season collapses by a team in any American pro sport.

Not only did the Cosmos lose all three of their games, they were shut out in all three, the only time in the club's 619-game history that it was blanked three times in a row. They lost to the Tulsa Roughnecks by 2-0 on Sept. 8, to the Golden Bay Earthquakes by 1-0 on Sept. 12 and to Chicago by 1-0 on Sept. 15.

After the first two losses, the season came down to the last game, in Chicago. By this point, Toronto was in first place, with the Cosmos second and Chicago third. There was a slim mathematical chance that both the Cosmos and Sting might advance to the playoffs, but the overwhelming likelihood was that the winner would join Toronto in the playoffs and the loser would go home. Karl-Heinz Granitza's goal for Chicago in the final minute of the Cosmos final NASL game determined that it would be the Cosmos who would go home.

The Cosmos certainly did have some glory years, but 1984 and 1985 weren't among them.