Why We (Secretly) Love The Cosmos

Wednesday, March 23, 2011 | View Comments
- Keith Hickey

I kind of feel bad for the New York Red Bulls. They’re the only professional soccer team in their metropolitan area, and yet they still aren’t the most famous. That title belongs, as it has for decades, to the New York Cosmos.

Or rather, since the demise of the North American Soccer League, the idea of the Cosmos.

You see, when MLS brought top-flight professional soccer back to the United States in 1996, it was chastened league. It had learned its lessons from the excess of the NASL. A strict salary cap, tight wage controls, and roster limits made sure that teams wouldn’t be able to enter an unsustainable soccer arms race. Austerity, rather than opulence, was the zeitgeist.

And that’s all well and good for a prudent and lasting league, but it’s somewhat counter-intuitive to the American character. We like to be the best, or at least believe we are. To be in a position where we’re second class citizens embarrasses and annoys us.

And that’s the root of the appeal of the Cosmos. They’re slick, fashionable, and brashly American. They think big. Recognizable names? They got ‘em. And not just any big names, but the cryptic genius of Eric Cantona. The West Coast style and American soccer street cred of the legendary Cobi Jones. And O Rei himself, Pele.

You can’t help but admire the presumption and audacity of their marketing. They throw parties that get more coverage than Red Bull games. They’ve got the stones to call themselves the “Kings of New York,” with the lack of a stadium, players, and a league in which to play being just a few minor inconveniences. The most important thing is that they are here, and they ready to be worshipped.

And there’s more to the mystique than just the smoke and mirrors cachet of this current Cosmos organization. As a team that can boast a great history, but hasn’t played a game in decades, soccer fans can assign all sorts of fantasies to the team about what they believe the Cosmos could and should be.

For American soccer fans, the Cosmos represents a potential megaclub, a cash-throwing mash-up of the LA Lakers, The New York Yankees, the Dallas Cowboys and Real Madrid. We see the flash and the excitement of American sports applied to the worldwide popularity of soccer and imagine a future where the young Lionel Messis and Cristiano Ronaldos and Wayne Rooneys of the world are lining up to play for and against the Cosmos, and the MLS Cup Final draws half the TV viewers in the country.

And can you blame us? It’s much sexier to wish for this fantasy vision of the future than hoping MLS raises the salary cap to $3 million or the minimum wage to $50k a year or signing another thirty-something who can’t hack it in Europe anymore.

And perhaps it’s for the best that they aren’t yet ponying up forty mil to Don Garber. The reality of a Cosmos franchise in MLS can never be nearly as exciting as the fantasy it will have been built up to be.

Of course, that won’t stop us from dreaming. We are Americans, after all.
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