After a roller coaster offseason, the New York Cosmos are set to begin a new era in Coney Island under the leadership of new chairman Rocco B. Commisso.
Soon after the team won its second consecutive North American Soccer League championship last November, reports emerged that the franchise was on the brink of folding. For several weeks, the future of the Cosmos — and the NASL as a whole — seemed to be in doubt. To the rescue came Commisso, the founder and CEO of cable television giant Mediacom, who bought a majority stake in the club and ensured its survival.
“I just couldn’t see the team not playing in 2017, given what it’s meant for anyone that grew up with the game in the ‘70s in the New York area,” Commisso said. The Cosmos became a household name in the 1970s with international stars Pelé, Giorgio Chinaglia, and Franz Beckenbauer, and helped bring professional soccer to the American mainstream. The original Cosmos franchise folded in the 1980s, but the team returned to competition in 2013 under a new ownership group.
Commisso met with Cosmos players for the first time last week during a practice at Columbia University’s soccer stadium in Inwood. The practice was a homecoming of sorts for Commisso, who starred for the Columbia Lions men’s soccer team from 1967 to 1970 and later became one of the Columbia soccer program’s most prominent donors — so prominent, in fact, that the stadium where the Cosmos practiced is named after him.
Head coach Giovanni Savarese, who has helmed the club since it was reestablished, will return for the 2017 season. “We always said that everything that we were doing was a new chapter in the book that we were writing,” Savarese said. “I think what happened in December has a whole new book by itself, because there was so much going on from the time that we finished the championship to where we are right now.”
“For us to be able to be back is a fantastic feeling,” he added.
Despite the Cosmos’ tumultuous recent history, Commisso is confident that he can bring stability to the franchise. “I don’t want to say I’ve got a lot of money to waste, but I do,” he said with a smile.
In addition to a new owner, the Cosmos have a new home. The club will play its 2017 home games at Coney Island’s MCU Park, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones. Hofstra University’s James M. Shuart Stadium served as the Cosmos home field for the last four seasons, but the team played two games at MCU Park in 2015. “My intent from the get-go was to bring the Cosmos to New York City,” Commisso said.
“I liked to play at Hofstra, it was a fantastic stadium for us,” Savarese said. “The only thing, it was very difficult for people to get there. Now MCU Park gives you the possibility to take the subway and be there. So maybe some people that didn’t come come from the city will now have the possibility to be there.”
After struggling with attendance at Hofstra, the Cosmos are hopeful that the Q train, which now connects Coney Island with the Upper East Side via the Second Avenue subway expansion, will draw new fans. Commisso said he hopes to sign Russian, Ukrainian, and Caribbean players to appeal to local immigrant communities.
The Cosmos will play 16 matches in Brooklyn during the 2017 NASL regular season. The team is scheduled to play its first game of the 2017 season March 25 in Puerto Rico, and will host its first home game at MCU Park on April 1 against Miami FC.