Posted on July 12, 2012
By Michael Lewis
NEW YORK — Seamus O’Brien knows what he has, a legacy, a tradition — and he doesn’t want to be the one to spoil it.
So, he is willing to take it slowly with the New York Cosmos.
That’s why the Cosmos are playing in the North American Soccer League these days.
On Thursday, the NASL announced the Cosmos would become the league’s 10th team for the 2013 season. The league is the second tier of professional soccer in the United States and North America, below MLS.
After the Cosmos were resurrected under other management in 2010, just about many soccer fans thought they would be aiming to play in Major League Soccer, especially after the league decided to push for an expansion team — its 20th club — to play at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens.
But the time is right for the NASL, instead of pining and waiting for the MLS. That opportunity could be around in a year or two.
So, O’Brien wants to take it slow.
“We’re very conscious that we’re the custodians of an amazing legacy and heritage,” O’Brien said at the Cosmos’ office in Soho on Thursday afternoon. “As we did the evaluation of all of the opportunities . . . the marriage of these two [brands] was an unbelievable opportunity.
“We’re starting out again. We’re going to put down some deep foundations. You can build a big house. That’s what I hope to do. I won’t be gazing into a crystal ball and coming up with a great vision. We’ll take it one step at a time. And we believe that the huge ties that bind the two leagues, this was the right place to start at the right time.”
Of course, O’Brien did not rule out playing in MLS. It is not known how long MLS will take to secure a stadium in Flushing Meadows. With New York State and City politics, it could take years. Besides, the Cosmos are following suit of some recent MLS expansion teams that played in the lower tiers of North American pro soccer. The list includes the Seattle Sounders FC, Vancouver Whitecaps FC, Portland Timbers and Montreal Impact.
“At the end of the day, we would want to play soccer at the highest level in this country, in this market place,” he said. “We’ve got to build. We’ve got to get there. We believe as a management and ownership group, to start from scratch again after 30 years, to suddenly think you’re going to be up there would be absolutely a bit of an arrogant statement. You’ve got to build it. When we get to the highest level, whenever that will be, we want to have a franchise and a club that will be rock solid and be the best.”
Not surprisingly, there might be great expectations of a team that once boasted the likes of Pele, Giorgio Chinaglia, Franz Beckenbauer and Carlos Alberto. The likelihood of finding talent like that is slim and none. O’Brien realized that. He hoped that the fans would be patient.
“Not only do we think there is an amazing talent pool in America today, I think the NASL will only grow that talent pool,” O’Brien said. “But we also know that our fans will expect some recognized names, and hopefully we will be able to deliver on that. I’m not going to say that Messi and Ronaldo will be turning up next year. We’ll be realistic. We’ll get there, but we’re going to build it. The Cosmos of the seventies came from a very humble start and they built it.”
O’Brien said the best venue for the Cosmos at the moment would be a medium-sized stadium.
According to sources close to the team, the Cosmos will play at Hofstra Stadium in Hempstead, N.Y., the same place the Cosmos performed in their second and third seasons in 1972 and 1973.
O’Brien wouldn’t deny or confirm the possibility of playing at Hofstra, although he gave it a rave review.
“I heard it’s a wonderful place,” he said. “It’s a fine, medium-sized facility. It happens to have a place in the history of the club and I think that would be a wonderful idea.”
There is so much to do, such as picking a general manager and then a coach and finally a team.
After Thursday’s 1 p.m. announcement, fans flocked to the club’s website to order tickets. The team also received resumes for jobs, requests for press credentials and even a query about player tryouts, even though there was no coach in place.
Asked what he thought what was his biggest challenge, O’Brien replied, “Our biggest challenge is by action rather than words, regain the loyal trust and respect of our huge fan base. That might sound overly simplistic or a bit too philosophical. We’re the custodians of a lot of great heritage and history, which we have to respect both, but we have to build for the future. Even though the brand, somebody said is arguably the biggest in the sport, you can’t assume people will turn up at day one.”
O’Brien hoped that some of the Cosmos legends who have been ambassadors of the team over the last two years, including Pele and Shep Messing — will continue in that role.
“Pele is still very much involved and will be going forward,” O’Brien said. “He was delighted when the announcement was made today. For him, the ties between the two brands goes hand in glove. Over the next, three to six, nine months he will become involved with some of the announcements that we have. We are respectful of the Shep Messings, and unfortunately Giorgio is no longer with us. They will be part of it and I think they will be delighted with the announcement on the way we’re going.”
Photo: Cosmos chairman Seamus O’Brien (left) and NASL commissioner David Downs. Michael Coppola, Getty Images
Categories: North America, U.S.A.
Tags: Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Park, Giorgio Chinaglia, New York Cosmos, North American Soccer League, Pele, Seamus O'Brien, Shep Messing