Twice in a Lifetime: The Collapse of the New York Cosmos

One scene tells the whole story:

As the NASL owners gathered in Florida last week, it was hardly a secret that the league was in trouble.

No matter how anyone counted, teams defecting to MLS, USL or the fledgling CSL and/or shutting down in a sea of red ink had made it impossible for them to meet the USSF-mandated "12 teams in three time zones" standard required to keep their Division 2 sanctioning.



Prospective owners in various cities, one of them ready to go (San Francisco) but the rest speculative to the point of fantasy, were simply not going to be enough. They were going to need a healthy dose of pity from Sunil Gulati to garner a waiver for a year, or two or five just to keep the thing going.

And, having spent the last few years very publicly spitting in Gulati's eye over their demand for co-Div 1 sanctioning - loudly threatening a lawsuit over it before the owners discovered how much it was going to cost - Sunil seemed an unlikely place to go with hat in hand begging for favors.

(And if you;re keeping score at home that's American Soccer 3-0 Jeff Kessler, as his parade of failed lawsuits, empty threats and imaginary plans to do a Scrooge McDuck swan dive into SUM's vault of money have all flopped like Alejandro Moreno on a hot August night. Who do you suppose he'll suck in as his next clients? US Futsal? Maybe the Deaf Soccer program? I can't wait.)

Still, as the owners took their seats they figured that, if they had anything, they had the mighty New York Cosmos, their World Famous flagship franchise, the guys with all that Saudi money. Surely they'd find a way forward.

So it must have come as quite a shock when almost before everyone's coffee had cooled enough to sip the Cosmos announced that they couldn't pay their bills and asked the other owners to kick in their 2017 operating costs.

We've since learned that the neo Cosmos have lost around $30 million and didn't see any possible path to profitability.

When the other owners, all of them losing money to a greater or lesser degree, recovered from the shock, they were faced with the stark reality:

The NASL had, for the second time, followed the New York Cosmos off a cliff.


It didn't have to end this way of course.

When the Cosmos came back in 2011 to bold headlines, giant billboards, swanky cocktail receptions and the resurrection of "Head Coach" Eric Cantona and "President" Pele and "Head of Something or Other" Cobi Jones the possibilities seemed almost endless.

(Seriously, can you imagine turning a carryout or a small day care center over to those three mooks? As it is, Cantona recently sued the Cosmos for beau coup dollars, Pele just had a hip replacement and Cobi is probably renting himself out as a stomping target for little Mexican boys birthday parties)

Not only would they soon dominate soccer in the US, but they were certain to be a world power, probably joining the (endlessly proposed) World Super League and taking their rightful place amongst the Bayern Munichs and Barcelonas and PSG's and Manchester Uniteds of the world.

And everybody knew that Don Garber wanted a team in the five boroughs so badly he could taste it, and what could be better for his league than to welcome in a famous name like the New York Cosmos? It was a match made in heaven.

But when they sat down to map out their glorious future, it became immediately apparent that they had literally nothing in common aside from that round thing you play the game with.

The Cosmos wanted to PLAY in MLS, they just didn't want to JOIN MLS, which would mean cutting the rest of the league in on the massive profits they would soon be generating from worldwide ticket and TV revenuesand ancillary income from shirt, bag and trinket sales.

The Cosmos were going to be a money machine and Don Garber's stodgy little league with their "one for all, all for one" modus operendi wasn't for them.

Or, as they put it rather sniffily, they could use the $70 million expansion fee to "build the club" rather than simply hand it over to Garber. It's a meme they repeated over and over, then and ever since. Didn't make "business sense" to use that money as an expansion fee when they could instead "invest" it in the team itself.

Made perfect sense.

Except that just 3 years later MLS NYCFC paid $200 million dollars for the right to establish an MLS team in New York.

I pride myself on having readers who are capable of doing simple math, but I nonetheless cannot resist pointing out that they turned down the chance to buy a $200 million asset for $70 million and have since burned through $30 million cash in operating costs.

Very shrewd indeed.

Yet, as big a bunch of faithless, clueless losers as the neoCosmos have proven to be, well, you pays your money and you takes your chances. Businesses fold every day due to the stupidity of imbeciles, and that goes double for minor league soccer teams although that's usually more a case of dreams running headlong into reality.

No, the real crime here is that the dumpster fire of clowns and dog shit that was the New York Cosmos got the entire NASL to follow them blindly off the cliff.


Back in 2013, after the USL/NASL split, MLS was looking for a partner league which would initially allow their team to accept MLS players on loan and then, a few years on, start integrating MLS reserve sides into the regular scheme of things.

And since the NASL was the officially designated second division, MLS sat down with then President David Downs and worked out a deal. Reportedly they were only a few crossed t's and dotted i's away - literally a couple days - from a handshake and a private celebration at some swanky New York eatery when the Cosmos entered the picture.

They convinced the NASL owners to walk away.

They were the big name, the big money, the world soccer power. They convinced the others that they didn't have to settle for permanent second division status, that they could and would rise up, challenge MLS for Div 1 status and, once gained, force an AFL/NFL or ABA/NBA kind of a merger deal which would put them all into MLS on the cheap.

They would all become big time for pennies on the dollar and the Cosmos would get both the first division status which they needed for world recognition and the independence to keep all the money for themselves.

So the NASL walked away from the table and MLS very quickly made the deal with USL,who couldn't believe their luck.

Fast forward just three years: USL has 29 teams, will add four more next year and has reportedly been granted the Division 2 status which they aspired to and NASL disdained.

Meanwhile, NASL will merge four clubs into USL - reportedly USSF has arranged for them to pay franchise fees on a ten year installment plan - and the others will either fold or end up elsewhere eventually. (Ottawa and Edmonton will be in the new CSL in a year, but I'm sure Sunil is happy to let them park in USL for a year, something Ottawa wanted to do anyway.)

There are a bunch of details yet to be worked out as far as divisions, leagues, conferences and what not. The USL schedule was due out this week but now - well, lets just say that somebody somewhere has a few numbers guys locked in a room someplace doing IV coffee and hoping to get to see the kids on Christmas.

None of which is particularly important today.

Still, I've heard from a number of people who are certain I'm having trouble fitting into elevators today because of the huge schadenboner they figure I'm packing over the demise of the fraudulent neo Cosmos.

And in truth the thought of that bunch of cheap hucksters, carnies and liars led by the despicable Seamus O'Brien - unfortunately his partners in crime at Traffic Sports have all been convicted of crimes and are now looking at prison time,proving that there is in fact a God - being brought low gives me some holiday cheer for sure.

But the bottom line here is that whatever the team name and whatever the level of pompous asshattery they engaged in, once again it's a bunch of loyal American soccer fans who are the ones getting the shaft.

And for their sake I'm truly sorry.

For while Cosmos v2 has just joined the painfully long littany of failed American soccer teams, a long, long list stretching farther into the distance than anyone wants to remember, and nobody much outside of a small coterie of fans will mourn the Cosmos' hubris-heavy passing, we all need to remember that there are still casualties being taken in the struggle to establish soccer in the US.

And there but for the grace of God go we.