Does the NASL Have a New York Cosmos Problem?
The return of the New York Cosmos has been met with fanfare throughout much of the country. The revival of the 1970s superclub brought more attention and eyeballs on North America’s Second Division than any time since the exodus of top second division clubs to MLS began with Seattle’s 2009 move.
When the Cosmos return was announced by the North American Soccer League (NASL) in 2012, it was indicated that the club would play the entire 2012 season. But a month later the NASL announced a split-season format and then a few months after that the Cosmos dropped out of the first half (Spring Season) of the 2013 campaign.
The Cosmos decision was wise in that it allowed the organization more time to build infrastructure, hire staff and sell tickets. Every new professional team in North America needs a long ramp up to a launch and in the past the third-division USLPRO has launched teams without much lead time, which has in-turn led to unnecessary survival challenges.
But what was surprising is that the NASL made the decision to allow the Cosmos to compete for the 2013 Soccer Bowl title just like the other seven active teams. In theory, the Cosmos would have less of a shot than other teams, as the Cosmos had just one bite at an apple instead of two. But it seemed absurd on the surface. Would, for example, a team in college football be allowed to play less conference games than another team, yet compete in a conference title game? In European soccer, would a team be allowed to qualify for Champions League by playing half as many games as other sides but because they had a higher points-per-game ratio be let into a title game?
The hope among most neutrals was that the Cosmos would not win the season’s second half (Fall Season) because it would make the awarding of a champion in the league questionable. But with four matches left in the second half, the Cosmos are seven points clear of the nearest competition. So it is now highly likely they will compete for the 2013 league title without having played in the first half of the season. Is this fair? You could make a case both ways.
Thanks to the Cosmos return, Tampa Bay and Fort Lauderdale drew record regular season crowds earlier this fall, and the amount of social media buzz about the league has increased thanks to the Cosmos play.
The Cosmos accomplishment of gelling a side quickly and becoming a cohesive team is worthy of recognition. Coach Giovanni Savarese has cut his teeth a coach, and his success with this side is worthy of mention. Other NASL teams had two chances to qualify for the Soccer Bowl and a longer period of time to sign players, coalesce a winning team and develop cohesion in their squads.
But the flip side is allowing a team to win a title playing half the season de-legitimizes a league’s competition and makes a mockery out of a highly-touted competition format that emphasizes the importance of every game. The end of the Spring Season saw a run of several games that were meaningless for multiple teams, and the Fall Season is shaping up the same way. The NASL’s split-season format has its proponents and detractors, and is clearly a work in the progress. But that work becomes more difficult if the Cosmos win the Soccer Bowl title, which will be contested on November 9 in Atlanta versus the home standing Atlanta Silverbacks.
While it is mathematically possible someone else will win the NASL Fall Season, it is most likely going to the be in-form Cosmos traveling to Atlanta to take on a side that has not performed that well in the fall.
If Atlanta wins the Soccer Bowl, these discussions by and large will fade away. But if the Cosmos win, expect a full offseason of questioning the NASL’s split-season format and the ability of teams to “opt-out” of halves of the season yet still compete for a title.