Red Bulls, Cosmos could be match made in heaven -- with new stadium
GalleriesGet to know Thierry Henry
MLS wants a local league rival for the New Jersey-based Red Bulls and long ago identified a soccer-specific stadium, privately funded, as a prerequisite for granting ownership. The Cosmos say they will pay for a $400-million, 25,000-seat building.
MLS prefers a Queens site, and the Cosmos' project is targeted for the Queens-Nassau border, in the south parking lot of the Belmont Park racetrack.
Furthermore, the Cosmos appear to have the finances and the wherewithal to move on a stadium, while MLS -- despite commissioner Don Garber's November declaration that his organization was "at the finish line" of acquiring land for a $300-million Flushing Meadows-Corona Park stadium -- has run into objections from local residents and to Queens Councilman Peter Vallone's promise that he would not support a stadium at the Flushing location.
MLS, silent for more than a day after the Cosmos' stadium announcement, eventually issued a statement proclaiming that it "continues to work with the city of New York and local elected officials in our quest to build a soccer stadium in Queens, and we are making progress with the project.
"We are in discussions with a variety of potential ownership groups, all of whom are very interested in being involved with the Division I soccer league in North America. MLS continues to support the development of the lower leagues."
That last sentence appears to be a reference to the new North American Soccer League, where the Cosmos say they will begin playing -- halfway through its 2013 season -- in late summer, with home games at Hofstra.
But a minor-league existence hardly jibes with the Cosmos' grandiose designs on financial and popular success. The reconstituted NASL, which has no resemblance to the nation's top league in the 1970s and '80s, averaged a mere 3,810 fans per game in 2012. The Cosmos, in the two years since resurrecting one of the sport's highest-profile names, have consisted of nothing more than merchandise and nostalgia for the 1970s and '80s champions of Pele, Giorgio Chinaglia and Franz Beckenbauer.
They haven't played a game since 1984, the year the old NASL died. (The result, really of those domineering Cosmos, who triggered a U.S. soccer boom, in effect eating their young in the drastically unbalanced NASL format.)
But lately the Cosmos have been making noises about returning to the big time. They now are backed by the Saudi marketing group Sela Sport, with new chairman Seamus O'Brien, previously head of Asia's top marketing/media/event management company, World Sport Group. They finally signed a coach and their first player -- Mineola native and former Red Bull Carlos Mendes -- in November.
O'Brien is on record preferring to play in the NASL, because it does not require the MLS entry fee (of roughly $100 million) and because there are no restrictions on player signings, salaries and licensing. But the Cosmos would appear to need to belong to the nation's top-level league to put enough fannies in the seats.
So is the Elmont deal a bluff, as the website Capital New York suggested, to force the MLS' hand into granting admission -- a negotiating leverage not only to prove the Cosmos are willing to provide the stadium MLS wants but also gaining the Cosmos some team autonomy within league rules?
Are the Cosmos and MLS even talking to each other? "Our policy," an MLS spokesman said, "is that we keep conversations with potential owners private until they decide to comment on their interest."
MLS is going into its 18th season of stable growth, having positioned soccer alongside ice hockey as America's No. 4 professional spectator sport. But here's why we shouldn't hold our breath on either the Flushing or Elmont soccer stadium plans, both of which are meant to come to fruition in 2016:
When MLS still was on the drawing board in 1994, two years before its creation, Long Island was granted one of 12 charter franchises, to be housed in a prototype 30,000-seat stadium at Mitchel Field.
Neither that team nor that building ever materialized, of course. And the Red Bulls (originally the MetroStars, based at Giants Stadium) waited six years, from blueprints to ribbon-cutting, for their Harrison, N.J., home. It finally opened in 2010.
Now there are rumors that David Beckham, the veteran English superstar whose MLS contract with the Los Angeles Galaxy expired in 2012, would be interested in returning to MLS as an executive/player, and hints that Beckham's new team could be the Cosmos.
They all could have such a good time together.
Isn't it pretty to think so?