Rocco Commisso speaks out about Steve Malik and USSF
Here are some highlights from our conversation with Commisso on these matters as well as my analysis of his comments:
“(In January 2017) no one on Steve Malik’s side was open to me about what might happen to me. That’s why I have this anger.”
While this might be fair, at the time Malik like other NASL owners and employees was likely desperate to get Commisso in the door and in control of the Cosmos who would have folded otherwise, leaving NASL in a precarious state with too few teams to compete and without its most marketable and recognizable brand. In fact, it could be argued that NASL as an independent league has no real need to exist if the Cosmos brand is not active. Additionally, if Commisso had failed to buy the Cosmos, it is entirely possible, perhaps even likely, that the league would not have been sanctioned to play in 2017.
It’s been a common theme that new owners in both NASL and USL often aren’t warned about the pitfalls of the lower league soccer business by league officials or other owners that are anxious to close the deal on sales. This having been said, Commisso deserves praise for coming into the ownership of the New York Cosmos and quickly retiring the numerous debts the previous club ownership had to players, staff and vendors. The Cosmos previous owners, the Saudi Arabian-funded Sela Sports group, had brought the reputation of the famous club into disrepute with non-payment issues as well as the treatment of players. Commisso quickly corrected course and steered the Cosmos ship forward once again.
Less than a week after the NASL was sanctioned for 2017 with Malik being the owner quoted in the press release, the NWSL team Western NY Flash relocated to the Raleigh/Durham market with Malik purchasing the club and rebranding it as the North Carolina Courage. At the end of that month, North Carolina FC formally applied to join MLS, a process that had begun with a press event in December. The following month, Malik moved North Carolina FC’s U-23 teams from NPSL, a largely NASL-aligned 4th division, to USL-owned PDL which operates at the same level. It should also be noted Malik’s North Carolina FC Academy teams play in the US Soccer Development Academy setup, which is owned and managed by the USSF.
In March, Malik was added to the USSF Board of Directors as one of only two representatives from professional leagues, the other being MLS Commissioner Don Garber. Commisso implies in the interview above (and sources who have spoken to us on background) that Garber was largely responsible for Malik’s appointment.