Can the Cosmos Really Manage to Destroy the NASL Twice?

Ever since that dark, sad day when the actual, real, original North American Soccer League went belly up, the conventional wisdom has said with absolute certainty that more than anything else it was the New York Cosmos that killed it.

Following the Cosmos lead by spending lavishly on players they couldn't afford drove all the other owners bankrupt, or so the theory goes.

Be that a gross oversimplification, an outright lie or God's own truth,  if it's true that - as everyone keeps assuring me - perception is reality, then there's just no reality more real than that the high-flying, wild-spending, coke snorting, Studio 54 haunting Cosmos were responsible for turning out the lights on the Golden Age of American professional soccer.

So poisoned was that particular well that when the Dark Eminence, AKA He Who May Not Be Named, keeping his promise to Sepp Blatter*, began putting together what is now known, admired and loved the world over as Major League Soccer LLC, he could find almost no one who was willing to pony up a measly five million bucks to buy a team.

(*Yes kids, hard as it may be to accept, MLS was founded in large part because Sepp Blatter demanded it .Like Bugsy Segal (AKA Moe Green) founding Las Vegas, nobody wants to admit it, but that doesn't mean it's not so)

Forget Philadelphia, Atlanta and Montreal (Atoms, Chiefs, Manic), he couldn't even get a nibble from such World Soccer Meccas as Seattle, Portland or Toronto. (Sounders, Timbers and Metros). Sorry, not interested. The whole Cosmos thing, you know. Been there, done that, lost a fortune.

 

As for the league sales pitch, it was simple: they'd present a list of all the things the Cosmos forced the other NASL teams to do that drove them bankrupt and then explained how MLS would be doing exactly the opposite in every respect.

I kept thinking of that this Winter, when every other BigSoccer poster wanted to drone on about "single entity" being the whole problem. Well, maybe and maybe not but the cold hard truth is that "single entity" was established to make sure that MLS didn't get "Cosmos disease" and spend themselves off the cliff.

The Cosmos are the gift that kept on giving. There have been plenty of failed sports leagues, but only one is so closely identified in the public perception with one team that it's necessary to exorcize the name itself just to get some rich guy to give you ten minutes of his time.

So MLS, structured and marketed as the Anti-Cosmos, finally got off the ground and, now entering their 20th year and having finally escaped the ghost of Pele, Der Kaiser and of course Giorgio, seem to be a sure-thing permanent addition to North American sport.

Still it always strikes me as ironic when, in their shiny new configuration, the NeoNASL and the NeoCosmos demand our respect based on the fact that they have "history" and a "legacy" and "deep roots in American soccer".

I mean, yes, it's true, but considering what that history is, their legacy was and their roots represent, I'm just a little surprised they wouldn't rather we forgot all about it. "Hey, remember when we stupidly drove professional soccer completely out of the US for a decade? Well, we're back" has never struck me as the best of sales pitches.

.So it's more than a wee bit ironic that following the Cosmos may very well have doomed the NASL a second time.

For several years now it's been rumored that MLS, having failed in their bid to buy USL outright from Nike, turned to NASL and opened talks about becoming partners.

We're indebted to Kartik Krishnayer, who was the NASL's head PR guy at the time and thus in a position to know, for recently confirming that yes, indeed, MLS and NASL were well along towards an agreement at one point, with the latter positioned to become the D2 destination league, filling the role that USL is now moving towards.

And then along came the Cosmos.

The Cosmos had money. The Cosmos had glamor. The Cosmos had a name. The NASL was thrilled to have them.

But having turned down the chance to throw in with MLS - which may turn out to have been the bonehead play of the decade - the last thing the NeoCosmos wanted was permanent Little Bro status with Don Garber and the Big Boys.

They reportedly convinced the other owners that there were so many strong soccer markets left outside MLS that they could easily assemble a 16-18 team league, with them as the marquee outfit of course, every bit as credible.

And it's not too much of a stretch to imagine that what was really on their minds was a future when they were strong enough - again, with The Biggest Name in US Soccer as their standard bearers - they'd be strong enough to force MLS into what the ABA, WHA and AFL had done previously:

Force a merger.

(Despite what anyone says, they don't really believe USSF will ever grant them "Co-Division 1" status. Never going to happen. Sunil Gulati is utterly impervious to public pressure. There's just no way, and surely they know it)

So with the sweet dulcet assurances of the Cosmos warming their ears, NASL told Don's people to forget it. They'd go their own way.

MLS, in their turn, went straight to USL and worked out a deal, USL, in THEIR turn, is now petitioning USSF for Division 2 status and the NeoNASL, who thought they were aiming at becoming Div1, may suddenly be looking at becoming Div 3.

Not what they had in mind at all.

What's more, MLS's sudden enthusiasm for seemingly reckless come-one-come-all expansion looks a lot more like them keeping desirable markets out of NASL, particularly now that the latter is about to run smack into the West Coast rule.

Back in 2010, when USL and NASL were at war over who was going to be second division, USSF set up a number of criteria, outlining what a league would have to bring to the table in order to qualify: stadium capacity, financial stability, number of teams, etc.

One of the rules at the time was that in order to be considered a league would have to have teams in "three US time zones". Which was tough but NASL managed it.

Now however, the time has come when USSF says that a Division 2 league must have at least one team in the Western Time Zone.

The reason is obvious: they want a league to have a true national footprint. And you're just not a credible national league without a single outfit on the west coast.

It's hard to see how they can pull it off. They make noises about Los Angeles from time to time but it's not going to happen. It would be the biggest money loser of all time. The travel costs alone wold kill them, and the competition from the Galaxy, Gals II and the new LA2 side would mean they'd be lucky to see crowds in triple digits.

Otherwise there's nothing. Nobody is going to step up and volunteer to lose a million bucks a year on a minor league soccer team. Even one fortunate enough to be in the same league as the Cosmos.

Meanwhile USL, who will certainly be able to reach 40 teams once all MLS teams field full sides - and we're not talking IF here, but simply when - they can easily conduct regional regular season competition to keep costs low and hold a national four team playoff to meet the letter of USSF rules.

It was a bit surprising this week when MLS announced that Sacramento wasn't coming in immediately, but a) keeping Minnesota is a higher priority, b) they need to appear committed to Miami if Beckham is to have any chance to pull it off and c) Sacramento has certainly received some closed door promises.

So with no new markets available - and even the Virginia Slavecatchers apparently tied to the Whipping Post - and landing a west coast team looking less and less likely, NASL has virtually no chance of either expanding their footprint or maintaining even Div 2 status.

Bottom line, they're in serious trouble.

Meanwhile the Harlem Globetrotters - excuse me, I mean, the Cosmos - have just announced that they're taking their freak show to Cuba to play their national team this Spring. Never mind that it makes no sense. It's all about the headlines.

And just this week it was announced that ManCity New York is smashing all kinds of MLS merchandise sales records. The TV ratings are bonkers, the media is swooning, ticket sales are rocketing skyward and the NeoCosmos - who are averaging under 5000 a game - look more and more like they missed the boat.

Which was of course their business; some of us would prefer half a loaf to no loaf at all, but that's a judgement call.

Meanwhile, a league calling itself NASL has once again followed a team called the Cosmos down the garden path, secure on the knowledge that they knew the way forward.

Sadly, it's looking more and more like history repeating itself.