Los Angeles (AFP) – Turmoil in the lower tiers of football in the United States has left one league on the brink of implosion and arguably the most glamorous name in American soccer, the New York Cosmos, facing an uncertain future.
Five years ago, the New York Cosmos announced their rebirth after decades of hibernation with Pele and Eric Cantona heading their delegation for a friendly against Manchester United at Old Trafford.
The team, which became an iconic franchise during the 1970s heyday of the North American Soccer League — when the likes of Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and Carlos Alberto played before enthusiastic crowds of 70,000 — were back.
But fast-forward to 2016, and the ambitions which accompanied the team’s 2011 relaunch have stalled.
A crisis in the North American Soccer League (NASL), US soccer’s second tier, has prompted the Cosmos ownership to terminate the contracts of its players. While Cosmos sources insist the franchise is still in business, with no players and no stadium, it remains a club in name only.
The uncertainty shrouding the Cosmos is a direct consequence of the problems engulfing the NASL.
The league, which had once entertained hopes of becoming a viable alternative to Major League Soccer, is fighting for survival. Many teams are bleeding money, others have defected.
Minnesota United is joining Major League Soccer, while the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Ottawa Fury are heading to the United Soccer League, the third tier of US football which has close links to MLS.
Other NASL teams such as the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, are in financial trouble. Rayo Oklahoma City have released their players.
– ‘The league’s collapsed’ –
“Bottom line is, the league’s collapsed,” a senior official with an NASL club told AFP on condition of anonymity this week.
The crisis forced the Cosmos, which remains the strongest brand in club football in the United States despite their status outside Major League Soccer, to furlough its playing staff.
“We can’t play in a league of seven teams. Doesn’t make any sense for us at all,” a Cosmos source told AFP. “We’re not going out of business. But we can’t play in a seven-team league. So if we can’t play in a seven-team league, we don’t need players on the payroll.”
“It’s a strategic decision we’ve taken because we can see that the league doesn’t work anymore.”
An NASL spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.