The Cosmos' first campus visit

BS poster vabeacher suggested in a comment on Bill Archer's blog that in light of the new Cosmos' recent announcement that they plan to play at Hofstra next year, I should write something about the old Cosmos' time at Hofstra 40 years ago. A good idea. Not that I've really done much writing here. A lot of this is from a book I wrote a few years ago. A few months after the 1971 NASL season, the Cosmos announced that they would be moving to Hofstra Stadium on Long Island for the 1972 season. Apparently being a tenant in a stadium where the landlord was very, very concerned about keeping its baseball field in pristine shape had gotten to be too much.

At Yankee Stadium, the Cosmos had had to worry about damaging the field. At Hofstra, they had to worry about the field damaging them, thanks to the tendency of artificial turf to cause knee injuries and deaden legs. Cosmos midfielder Stan Starzell told writer Gavin Newsham a few years ago that Hofstra had "the worst AstroTurf in the world. It was like putting carpet down on the expressway and trying to play on that." The stadium itself was no showplace, either, a small-college football field, with a track in front of the bleachers.

The Cosmos did win a somewhat unexpected NASL championship at Hofstra. It came at the end of a 1972 season in which the Cosmos had compiled a regular-season record of seven victories, three losses and four ties. That wasn't overwhelming, but it was good enough to win the Northern Division, and was followed by a 1-0 victory over Dallas in the playoff semifinals. The Cosmos won the NASL title a week after that, on Aug. 26, by beating the St. Louis Stars, 2-1, in front of 6,102 people at Hofstra Stadium. They took a first-half lead on a goal by Randy Horton (above), the league's MVP that season. St. Louis tied the score early in the second half, but Josef Jelinek got the winner on a penalty kick with four minutes left, after John Kerr had been brought down.

Jelinek was the first European international the Cosmos had signed, in a sense the forerunner of Franz Beckenbauer, Giorgio Chinaglia, etc., but he was past his prime, at least for a forward. The Cosmos press release announcing his signing in March 1972 said he was 27, but he actually was 31, and had last played for Czechoslovakia at the 1962 World Cup. He escaped from behind the Iron Curtain by defecting while his club team was in Italy in 1970.

Jelinek scored three goals for the Cosmos in 1972, including that gamewinner in the final, but goalscoring wasn't really his thing. He was a winger, and led the NASL in assists that season. He was one of three foreign internationals who joined the Cosmos in 1972, the others being Israeli Roby Young and Canadian Kerr. They strengthened a lineup that already included Bermudan international Horton. Of Kerr, teammate Barry Mahy told the New York Times: "Johnny is not only what you could call the hardest working midfield player in the league. He is more than that. He is the general out there. He plans things before the game, and then puts them into effect on the field."

Four days after the 1972 NASL final, the Cosmos drew a sellout crowd at Hofstra Stadium, 13,205, for a friendly against Dynamo Moscow, one of the world's most famous teams. The game had originally been scheduled for early June. A frantic trip to Europe by Cosmos general manager Clive Toye saved the day after the Soviet team tried to back out of the game, citing a schedule conflict. In the end, everybody involved with the Cosmos was happy, despite Dynamo's 2-1 win. The glow of the newly-won NASL title helped, as did the big crowd and the fact that the Cosmos had played well even though they lost. "I'm very pleased," Toye told the Times. "To lose 2-1 to Moscow Dynamo, I'll take that any day."

In contrast to 1972, the 1973 season, also at Hofstra, was a letdown. After the Dynamo game, the Long Island newspaper Newsday had written of "the belief that professional soccer has been permanently established on Long Island." Toye had expressed bright hopes for the Cosmos' future at Hofstra. But in 1973, when the Cosmos went 7-8-5, there were no championship, no sellouts and no MVP. What there was at the end of the season was a decision to move back into New York City.