Berlin: Playing Host

Photos by Przemek Niciejewski, Words by Zack Goldman

There’s always a certain amount of skepticism that underlines discussions about the New York Cosmos, a reality that’s entirely understandable given the team’s current position in the landscape of the sport across the United States.

Since the team’s revival in 2010 (brand revival, to be more specific), the team has occupied an uncomfortable and tenuous position trapped in a purgatory of sorts. One foot in, one foot out, for all the things the Cosmos have done right, they’re nevertheless contextualized by their lack of a relationship with Major League Soccer. 

And let’s be clear. For all the hand wringing and suspicion surrounding the club, the Cosmos have gotten plenty of things right. From lobbying for a soccer-specific stadium to signing internationally-recognized stars, hitting the mark on branding efforts, beating MLS to the punch on youth standouts and focusing on community outreach, the Cosmos are setting the benchmark that would-be MLS clubs ought to follow; the only problem being, of course, that in all likelihood, the Cosmos won’t see an invitation to join MLS any time in the near future.

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It’s that uncertainty that prompts hesitation. As with most nascent clubs with at least a passing glance towards the league, it’s tough to focus on their current on-field results when so many questions linger regarding their long-term back office strategy. 

“Would a stadium repair the relationship between the Cosmos and MLS?”

“The Cosmos signed Raúl?! What does that say about how the rest of the world views MLS?”

“If the Cosmos can’t climb into MLS, what’s the viability of their long-term survival?”

“If the Cosmos can’t climb into the first division, what’s the point?”

The focus is less on soccer, and more on grandiose topics regarding the health of the sport and future growth prospects. But for all the validity of those questions, which are entirely legitimate and worth your time, they take for granted the fact that fans head out to the middle of nowhere New York on a weekly basis to watch the Cosmos barnstorm through the North American Soccer League.

The easiest way to put it, and just stick with me here, is that as soon as you approach the outskirts of the Hofstra campus (the location of the Cosmos’ current stadium, some 80 minutes from Lower Manhattan), everything clicks into place. 

Here’s a historic franchise, known worldwide for the years they spent fielding some of the world’s greatest players, playing in the middle of a small neighborhood in Hempstead, taking the field in a lacrosse stadium that holds 12,000 people.

It’s easy to scoff at how the Cosmos’ fortunes have fallen since their heyday, but there’s an energy that courses through those aluminum stands. There’s an electricity that’s difficult to find in the soccer-specific jewels spread through MLS. Most of all, there’s an overwhelming sense of reverence that emanates from the crowd as the Cosmos play under the lights.

These fans know the Cosmos’ current struggles, their limitations and the fact that they don’t have a clear future, but they keep turning out and filling the stadium. From young to old, this is a community club, the likes of which extends far beyond the Hofstra campus. 

Sure, it’s not 80,000 fans watching on in Giants Stadium, or a full Yankee Stadium, but it doesn't have to be.

 

Words by Where Is Football's Maxi Rodriguez and photos by Maxi and Zack Goldman.