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.

15 thoughts on “Does the NASL Have a New York Cosmos Problem?”

  1. A Cosmos championship will definitely raise questions of legitimacy. Next year’s schedule of 10 games in the spring and 20 in the fall, due to the world cup, will do the same thing. I’m not a huge fan of the split season schedule. It did give the appearance that it was approved for the sole reason of allowing the Cosmos to join the league when they were ready rather than wait until spring of 2014. That’s disappointing.

  2. Well, the people who run NASL must have seen this as a distinct possibility, right?

    In the cost-benefit analysis of NASL it must have been worth it. The addition of the Cosmos is a huge boon to the league. While it does seem ridiculous that a team that only plays part of the season would get to compete for a championship, it’s just one season, and it’s NASL’s fault for setting up such a system. It’s an asterisk. Whether it’s worth it or not depends on how well the league does over the next several years. If it grows and becomes a true challenger to MLS then hardly anyone will care, I would think.

  3. Hope Cosmos win USOC next year. The first step to winning a FIFA World Championship while not giving up its brand to MLS.

    In my wildest dreams lol

  4. It doesn’t bother me that much. I guess it is a little odd, but oddness is going to happen anytime you have a league that is expanding. Oddness will also happen anytime you have anything other than a single-table, no-playoff structure.

    When a club wins La Liga or the EPL, we can all pretty confidently say, “That club was the best over the course of the season”. But with conferences, split seasons and playoffs, every champion gets its own story. It’s no different in MLS where the Supporter’s Shield winner usually doesn’t win MLS Cup.

  5. I’d imagine the owners of the clubs in the NASL had to be on-board with this as well. Their interest is in winning the league, but also getting butts in the seats. If the Cosmos were able to do that, then that’s the sacrifice to be made.

  6. NASL has bigger problems than the Cosmos. The writer of this article knows exactly what I am talking about and we appreciate his help in working with supporters for justice even though as a former league official we know it pained him.

    But all the problems stem from the Cosmos. The unwillingness of the league to clamp down on the Cosmos lack of security for traveling fans and the continued bias of the league towards anything Cosmos related has caused this problem.

  7. Spring/Fall are two different tournaments. Past results do not carry over and the winners of each individual tournament face off in soccer bowl.

    Cosmos were able to enter when they did because it was a new tournament. NASL does not have a problem.

    1. For the most part the 2 tournaments are different.

      My only gripe to be fair is that NASL doesn’t totally treat them as separate when it comes time to find teams to play for the Soccer Bowl (c.f. what happens if a team wins both tournaments). If a team wins both Spring & Fall, he should be declared the NASL champion and not have to play a Soccer Bowl. That to me is odd, not the fact that a team that wasn’t in Spring wins the Fall tournament.

  8. Why do people have a problem with the Cosmos making the championship if they only played the fall season? If they were to win a championship, why would it be asterisked? The spring and fall seasons have separate records. Which means every team in the NASL in theory has two chances to make it to the Championship. If you stunk in the spring then wipe the slate clean and win the fall? The Cosmos have one chance to make the championship and that’s to win the fall league. Who cares if they didn’t play the Spring? I personally think team owners don’t care when the Cosmos joined because they know that for at least one of their home games when they host the Cosmos, attendance is sure to be up. That’s a fact – I will be posting season attendance averages in the NASL on my website later this week to prove it.

  9. Why dish the Cosmos…jealous of how successful they have been given the cards stacked against them?? I think it is great for soccer shouldn’t that be the objective is to root all things that can promote the great game of soccer in America..I saw the Cosmos opening game, drove 5 hours to see it because of its legacy and importance in American soccer history..And to have Pele there cheering soccer on..priceless..Come together people..too much petty crap in this is too short..GO COSMOS!!!!

  10. The Cosmos are dominating because while in the minor leagues no one gives year long contracts, you must give 8 month contracts…but the Cosmos only had to give 4 month contrast to players with options for next year. So on the same budget they could pay TWICE AS MUCH $$$ to players!
    As a Strikers fan that has seen Traffic Sports cut our budget every year since we started in 2011 I am sick to my stomach over all of this.
    It is a new formula. Pay players twice the wages for half the season so you can buy better players and opt out of the other half of the season and save $$$!

    1. Except you are forgetting that it also means half the revenue. Your shortsighted view of how the cosmos are spending money will become obviously flawed when the Cosmos roll out an ever better more expensive squad next season.

  11. I don’t think NASL is in the position of refusing any new entrants.
    I think it’s more NASL’s problems, not Cosmos being a problem.

  12. With its Vatican-esque opacity, constant rules changes and regular ignoring of even those rules, MLS has made it clear that the businessmen running soccer in the US aren’t interested in a serious competition. So it’s no surprise that the NASL is resorting to the same sort of gimmickry.

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