October 23, 2012
MY TWO CENTS
Cosmos on the Verge
Will Smith, a long-time Red Bulls fan, gives some advice to the Cosmos' front office.
By Will Smith
Special to BigAppleSoccer.com
Any day now, the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League are expected to name a coach and general manager as they prepare to take the field for league play in 2013. This will be the Cosmos' first appearance as a league side since 1984. Excitement is building and rumors are swirling about who will land these positions. It's an exciting time to be a soccer fan in New York.
That said, it's important for the team, not to mention the fans, to keep a realistic view of what to expect in the near future. World domination does not happen overnight. With that in mind, I'd like to give the front office some advice that may serve them well in the month's ahead:
1) Have realistic player objectives
I hate to break it to you, but the Cosmos of 2013 will not be the free-spending Cosmos of 1977 or even the Red Bulls of 2012. The budget just isn't there. This team will have to spend wisely and get some bang for its buck. So, while they won't be signing Leo Messi to score goals, they might be signing players like former MLS-er Carlos Ruiz, who can still put one in the back of the net, but doesn't have the legs to play at the highest level any more. Amado Guevera is a realistic option as well. The team should also be looking to sign younger players who are either on the fringe of their MLS side or were cut by their MLS squad. Some MLS veterans wouldn't hurt nor would U.S. Soccer Development Academy players and Premier Development League players on the rise. The NASL is a second division league. Don't expect a first division budget.
2) Have realistic attendance goals
The Cosmos will be returning to Hofstra Stadium, their ancestral homeland, in 2013. Their rented stadium seats up to 13,000. It is extremely unlikely the stadium will sell out every game. Even the opener isn't guaranteed. Despite the build-up, this is still a second division side. An average attendance of 5,000 per game would be good. Anything between 5,000-10,000 would be great. If they draw more than 10,000 per game, they should be in MLS in 2014.
3) Know that the name only takes you so far
The team name has great value. Just saying it makes you picture Pele, Giorgio, Franz, Shep and trophies much in the way saying "Brooklyn Dodgers" conjures up images of Jackie, Pee Wee, Oisk, the Duke and 1955. That's all well and good, but those Dodgers live in the past and so do those Cosmos. The name will make people take notice and draw some crowds initially. That will wear off quickly. A good team and a good game day experience will bring people back and do fans a lot more good than memories of an era long ago.
4) Define what constitutes success
It's unrealistic to expect worldwide acclaim and oodles of trophies in a team's first season. Way back in 1996, when he was the first general manager of the MetroStars, Charlie Stillitano said, "I want this team to be the AC Milan of the US!" Right then and there, it was clear the team was doomed. Successful franchises are built over time. A realistic goal for this team would simply be to make the NASL playoffs and advance a few rounds in the US Open Cup. Anything beyond that, up to and including lifting a trophy, would be more than one could realistically home for.
5) Reach out to the local community
Red Bull isn't very good at this. The MetroStars were even worse. In 1998, I tried to get the team to send a player to a church event in Brooklyn I was planning. My rep said the players couldn't possibly travel that far. When I reminded him that I made that same trip for every home game, he had no answer.
A simple rule for the Cosmos would have to come from paraphrasing the George Costanza playbook, "See what they're doing across the Hudson and do the opposite!" The Cosmos need to attend those local events, both on Long Island and throughout the five boroughs, if they plan on building and sustaining a fan base.
The excitement is building for the second coming of the Cosmos, but the initial wave of enthusiasm will fade. Building a franchise that will succeed both on and off the field in the long term will require hard work, good planning and realistic expectations.