Where were you on June 15, 1975?
If you’re in your mid-50s – and a sports fan – maybe you tuned into CBS for a rare telecast of the North American Soccer League.
That was the day the New York Cosmos took on the Dallas Tornado at Downing Stadium, a match that saw Pele make his American soccer debut.
After signing a three-year contract worth nearly $3 million, the magic man of world football was the highest paid athlete on the planet, and he came to the United States to make soccer not just a big deal here, but the real deal.
I was transfixed.
Until that day I was a fan of the Tampa Bay Rowdies, but Pele turned me.
It wasn’t long before I had a Pele poster on my wall and snatched up every copy of Soccer America I could find so I could read up on his exploits.
And even after he retired, soccer greats such as Giorgio Chinaglia, Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Albert and Hubert Birkenmeier cemented my Cosmos fandom. As a teenager, the New York Cosmos was my favorite professional sports team, period.
So, it was quite a gut punch when the NASL “suspended operations” on March 28, 1985.
It was bad enough that top-notch soccer seemed finished in the United States, but the Cosmos were gone.
Within a week of the league’s demise, I had ripped the Pele poster (which had been joined by posters of Chinaglia and American-born soccer star Kyle Rote Jr.) off the wall. At that point, looking at them made me both mad and sad.
Now, jump 32 years into the future, and I wonder if I’ll have to bid the Cosmos farewell one more time.
The current NASL – the one that just competed its 2017 season on Sunday with the San Francisco Deltas blanking the Cosmos 2-0 in the Soccer Bowl, may not return. And if it’s dead, one has to assume the Cosmos name will finally be put to rest once and for all.
The modern NASL has nothing to do with the original NASL, of course. For a while, the Cosmos of the 1970s were one of the greatest soccer clubs in the world.
The “new” North American Soccer League has never been more than second division, and might not have even been on my radar if not for the Cosmos.
The name had been purchased by former Tottenham Hotspur official Paul Kemsley, and he was looking at the possibility of reviving the Cosmos as a Major League Soccer franchise.
He eventually sold his interest in the club and it was reborn in the NASL, although team officials as late as 2013 said the idea was still to somehow find a path MLS.
That didn’t happen, though, and now that New York has the Red Bulls and NYCFC, it probably never will.
But no matter … I still root for the Cosmos, and they remain my favorite domestic team.
But will they ever play again?
Will the NASL ever play again?
After being denied second division status by the United States Soccer Federation, the league sued in hopes to prove the USSF, MLS and the United Soccer League (another second division circuit) had colluded and, therefore, violated federal antitrust laws. However, NASL’s petition for a preliminary injunction was denied, and if it loses an appeal (set for the week of Dec. 11), it could be the death knell.
None of the stakeholders in the league have any desire to play at the third division level, and that might be the only realistic option.
I’d love to see the NASL become a “renegade” league if it can’t get relief from the courts; with no promotion/relegation system, if it spent enough money on players it could claim major league status.
But that would be a financial war it couldn’t win.
If the ruling stands, MLS, USL (and USL Division III, which is coming in 2019) will have effectively cornered the market on American soccer.
Hey, you never know how a judge is going to rule, but I’m going to go ahead and get ready to say goodbye to the Cosmos for the second – and probably last – time.