Why New York City Does Not Need NYCFC or MLS

empire-state-building
If you’re a soccer fan in New York, you do not have to be an NYCFC fan by default as it would be shameful to do so.
By Cesar Trelles – 1/5/2015

New York City does not need NYCFC and quite frankly we do not need Major League Soccer (MLS) either.

Yes I said it. Am I biased? Perhaps, but for about 5-10 minutes if you are relatively new to soccer in New York please take the time to read this post. For die hard and soccer enthusiasts out there, please bare with me as I will go into some basic background regarding soccer in MLS and in the United States in general. At the end I hope you will agree with the basic premise of this article mentioned above.

Soccer In The United States
For the last twenty years, MLS has had the sole attention of any and all soccer fans in the United States. In the last couple of years however, the North American Soccer League (NASL), has started to boost their exposure and has started to stake some claim for attention when soccer in the United States is discussed. With the addition of the New York Cosmos, the league started to gain creditability as a player in the US Soccer scene. The NASL has continued to grow and will have 11 teams playing in the league in 2015 with teams such as the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers, Tampa Bay Rowdies, Indy Eleven and Minnesota FC just to name a few, battling for the NASL cup. The NASL cup is awarded in November at the same time that the MLS crowns its champion. In 2016 with the addition of Oklahoma City and Virginia, the league expects to be up to 13 teams. Further, the NASL continues to have conversations with ownership groups throughout the US and Canada (as discussed with league commissioner Bill Peterson back in October) which could put the NASL at twenty teams in the next couple of years.

MLS, to their credit, has grown over the last twenty years and today stands at 21 teams in size. The MLS however competes in a league structure that has been considered unpopular around the world. The NASL’s structure while more popular with the rest of the soccer world, has not gotten the exposure that the MLS has with respect to television coverage as well as online visibility.

Differences Between MLS & NASL
The global unpopularity that MLS has lies with the fact that it has a closed structure. Virtually every other country in the world allows for promotion/relegation as a way to determine its top division. A simple explanation of pro/rel is that the teams in the top league never stay the same from year to year. A small group of teams that finish at the bottom of the standings (usually three) get relegated or demoted to the country’s second divisions. At the same time, the same number of teams from the country’s second division get promoted to the top division.

We pride ourselves as being the world leader for a lot things but why aren’t we in soccer which is without question, the only sport that can truly be considered a global sport. Why are we looked at as different and at many times inferior? Are we trying to make a statement? If so, we’ve tried to do it for a very long time and it hasn’t gotten us anywhere as the US has not made the semi finals of the World Cup since 1930. Aside from that year, their best performance next to that was a quarterfinals appearance in 2002.

Week after week, the level of league play here in the US clearly shows that we are far behind when compared to England, Spain, Germany, Italy, France, Argentina, Brazil and even our neighbor to the south, Mexico. When you really look at it, we are really low on the food chain when it comes to soccer.

Another notable difference between MLS & NASL include ownership structures. The MLS imposes a $100 million entry fee for their owners and even after paying that fee, the league owns all of the teams in MLS and the contracts of its players. As if that were not enough, an even more daunting requirement is that a stadium plan needs to be in place for teams to join the league.

Conversely, the NASL allows its owners to own their own teams. There is no league entry fee. There is also no requirement of a stadium plan in place, only the intention of building one in the future. Their theory is to allow their owners the flexibility and the capital to increase and build their respective clubs.

One way that a team can build their respective clubs is by having the freedom to pay their players competitive salaries compared to leagues around the world. Salary structure in the MLS restricts that from happening. With the exception of three designated players (DPs), MLS rosters are subject to a $3.1 million salary cap with no player allowed to earn more than $387,000. Those three DPs are allowed to earn as much as their team will pay them. Ricardo Kaka (Kaka) will be getting paid $7.1 million when he suits up for Orlando City in 2015 but he will be playing along side a roster full of players who will likely be earning less than $100k per year with perhaps a few others earning the $387k maximum.

What many fans of the game fail to realize is that this MLS imposed salary cap is indirectly stunting the growth of american soccer on the youth level. Talented young athletes who excel in soccer or excel in multiple sports including soccer, likely will choose another sport or give up on soccer all together because the likelihood of earning a lucrative salary here in the United States is very limited. In the NASL, clubs are not limited to how much players make. If owners can run their teams in a financially conscious way, they can pay multiple players well over $387k and give their fans a more attractive roster of players. While the NASL is still young, the age of teams fielding a roster with more than three superstars is not that far fetched. If you look at the Cosmos roster, one could argue that they aren’t far off from there. Of course they recently signed former Real Madrid legend Raul Gonzalez who is likely making a very hefty salary. Former Villareal star Marcos Senna is likely making a hefty salary as well. Mads Stokkelien, Andres Flores, Carlos Mendes and recently signed Adam Moffat are likely making over $100k and the Cosmos are likely not done adding players to their roster for 2015.

Frank Lampard recently told NYCFC and their fans that they would have to wait for his services.

Frank Lampard recently told NYCFC and their fans that they would have to wait for his services.

So What Does This Mean In New York?
Now that I have laid the ground work when it comes to soccer in the United States and the differences between the two more recognizable leagues, allow me to go back to the reason why I decided to write this article.

Recently, headlines around US Soccer have been focused on NYCFC and Frank Lampard delaying his arrival to play as a designated player in the inaugural season for NYCFC. Since the team was announced in May of 2013, the ownership group of NYCFC, which consists of the NY Yankees and English Premier League’s Manchester City Football club have spent thousands of dollars marketing the club and advertising it as New York’s soccer team. They announced David Villa of Spain’s Atletico Madrid as one of their designated players. Frank Lampard was also announced as a DP. Of course, Lampard will not be playing for NYCFC come the team’s first match in March. I personally wonder, will he ever play for NYCFC? Who knows. For now, he will be playing out the remainder of the Barclays Premier League season in England through at least May. The bigger question here might just be how many times will a player from NYCFC be shipped off to England to play for the parent club in the future when the need arises? Do fans really think that NYCFC’s needs will ever be bigger than Manchester City’s?

Fans in New York were deceived when it came to Lampard. They purchased NYCFC jerseys with Lampard’s name on it. Some may have brought tickets to the first match at Yankee Stadium with hopes of seeing the English Premier League legend play. Wait did I just say Yankee Stadium? A baseball stadium? Yes – that is where soccer legends David Villa and maybe Frank Lampard, will be playing their soccer since there are still no stadium plans on the table for NYCFC’s stadium. Didn’t I mention a stadium plan as one of the requirements for entries into MLS? I most certainly did up above, yet there are no plans currently for a soccer stadium that NYCFC can call home. Who cares about rules however since its been a known trend for MLS to change their rules when its convenient for them or when Don Garber gets too upset to abide by them.

About that jersey that I mentioned fans might have purchased with Lampard’s name on it, have you seen it? Looks a lot like a jersey of a team over in England. Yes you guessed it Manchester City’s jersey.

New Yorkers are a proud bunch. We strive to be unique from the rest of the United States heck I would even go as far as saying the rest of the world. Likewise we like our sports teams to be unique and powerful also. Wearing a jersey that looks a lot like the parent club’s jersey in England and ultimately yielding to the parent club and allowing them to take one of of your marquee players causing him to miss the city’s first soccer match does not look unique and powerful. Yet there are several fans out there who will go on record as saying that NYCFC is New York’s true soccer team.

The Cosmos Preparing To Take The Field!

The Cosmos Preparing To Take The Field!


But The Cosmos…

Truth is, New York has had a soccer team since 1971 in the New York Cosmos. While today they are not the same team, the principles on why they exist and why they play where they do speak volumes as to why this city is better off without NYCFC. What are those values and why don’t they play in MLS? I’m hoping to shed some light to soccer fans who may not really know the reason the Cosmos exist the way they do today. To fans that may have not been interested in soccer about five years ago when the seeds for this soccer soap opera in New York were being planted.

In 2010, MLS launched their effort to bring a second team to New York to rival the NY/NJ Red Bulls. Just prior to 2010, prior Tottenham Hotspur executive, Paul Kelmsley purchased the rights to he NY Cosmos and strived to bring them to MLS. At this time the Cosmos did not have a league to play in and had hoped that they would be selected by MLS to be their 20th franchise. With little to no traction being gained on this pursuit, Kelmsley stepped down as the chairman of the Cosmos in October of 2011. In 2012, Seamus O’Brien assumed the reigns as chairman and brought in with him his company Sela Sports. In July of 2012, O’brien and Sela Sports announced that the Cosmos would start play in 2013 not in MLS but in the NASL. Back in 2012 O’brien had this to say about their decision to play in the NASL.

“Simply put, in NASL we have the freedom to do whatever we need to in a way we would not have in MLS. Our goal is to own our own brand, media rights and player contracts. We realized we would be better off as owners by investing that $100 million capital in our own brand and owning it.”

With the Cosmos decision to play in NASL made, MLS would make the decision to turn to England to gain assistance in adding its 20th franchise. In May of 2013, MLS announced that New York City FC would be formed as part of a partnership between the NY Yankees and Manchester City Football Club. At the time, a die hard group of New York soccer fans, the Borough Boys denounced the MLS announcement and pledged their support to the New York Cosmos. An excerpt from their statement is as follows:

“While we always desired an MLS franchise, what we never desired was being forced to accept a foreign club’s world wide branding ambitions, using New York City as a vehicle to promote a separate soccer club abroad. The news that Manchester City will be establishing a new MLS expansion franchise, using “synergies”, cross promotion and color schemes of the parent club can only be described as disheartening. Over the past three years, we have been working closely with the New York Cosmos, in part because we felt they were the best choice for MLS expansion and in part because they demonstrated a commitment to being an authentic New York club, a club that was born of New York, made its history in New York, and a club who’s very iconic status in this great city attracted countless members to the Borough Boys.”

The entire Borough Boys Statement can be read here.

The statements made by Chairman O’brien in 2012 and by the Borough Boys in 2013 are the prime reasons why New York City does not need NYCFC or MLS. It does not get more black and white than that. In this country you have every opportunity to follow your own ambitions and own your own business. Those are the essential principles behind Chairman O’brien’s reasons for picking the NASL over MLS. New Yorkers in general would likely agree, that they don’t need to borrow the image of another country or another team for that matter to make an impact. Those were the feelings of the Borough Boys.

Years after those statements were made, soccer fans in New York still feel that MLS is better than NASL and likewise that NYCFC are more of a New York team than the Cosmos.

garber

Truth is when Don Garber realized that Seamus O’brien snubbed his business model for that of the NASL, he turned globally to fill the void that the Cosmos left. Did he do this with a sense of urgency or perhaps spite? I mean why else would you seek to repeat a failure right? Did Garber not realize that turning globally already backfired on him once before. Did he forget about Chivas USA?

Chivas USA is no longer in the MLS because it was a failure of the same thing that MLS is trying to do with NYCFC. They were the eleventh MLS team upon its entry into the league in 2004. To this day, they have been seen as the “little brother” to its parent club C.D. Guadalajara, one of the most widely supported and successful teams in Mexico. This past season was the last season for Chivas USA. It is taking a couple of years away from MLS as it is being rebranded and will be back to play in 2017 as an expansion team in Los Angeles.

Stokkelien celebrates with Guenzatti- Photo Credit Howard Simmons NY daily News

Stokkelien celebrates with Guenzatti- Photo Credit Howard Simmons NY daily News

The Label Of Division 2
The only semi legitimate argument that a detractor of the NASL and the Cosmos might have is that they are recognized as division 2 in US Soccer. Lets take a look at that label. Was there ever a tournament in the past 20 years that determined MLS is better than any other league? Of course not. In my opinion, it is a self imposed label that has been given to MLS because there haven’t been any other leagues around to contest that. It might also help that Don Garber sits on the Board of US Soccer. Further, how does a league with no promotion relegation, continue to say that it has the top tier teams in the country as part of its league? New fans of the sport may not know that the US Open Cup exists. The US Open Cup is a tournament open to all divisions in US Soccer and where the last team standing is considered the best team in the United States. On numerous occasions, teams from the NASL have defeated teams from MLS during tournament play. The New York Cosmos trounced the NY/NJ Red Bulls by a score of 3-0 in June of 2014 as part of this tournament. Many fans of MLS will tell you that the Red Bulls were missing several starters for this match. The Cosmos were missing starters as well such as Marcos Senna, Roversio and two other starters as well. I ask again, why is MLS considered first division and NASL division 2? I like to consider the two leagues as being some what equal and for the time being, co -existing as first divisions.

So What Is My Point?
Now that you know why the Cosmos are in the NASL and not MLS, now that you have been reminded that you are a New Yorker with a unique identity that is recognized worldwide, now that you have been misled by NYCFC since Frank Lampard will not be here on day one, now that you have seen that this international collaboration has backfired before and now that you know that we are an inferior country when it comes to soccer globally in part due to the MLS league policies and structure, why does any fan of soccer in New York support NYCFC or MLS for that matter? Put aside that they may look like the “cool” league because they have TV deals or have been around for 20 years and seriously ask yourself that question.

If I may have swayed some of you to abandoning the Manchester City feeder club set to play in the Bronx and the league that is doomed to hurt soccer in the US more than it will benefit it, allow me to leave you with some information for you to pursue.

Flanked By His Head Coach Gio Savarese On left and the Chairman of the Cosmos Seamus Obrien on the right, Raul holds up his new jersey!  Photo Credit - Eytan Calderon

Flanked By His Head Coach Gio Savarese On left and the Chairman of the Cosmos Seamus Obrien on the right, Raul holds up his new jersey!
Photo Credit – Eytan Calderon

The New York Cosmos returned to the NASL in 2013 and won the NASL championship that year. They are led by former NY Metrostars legend Giovanni Savarese as their head coach who just recently turned down an offer to be the head coach of the Houston Dynamo. There is no more direct snub to MLS than that.

The Cosmos currently have three former La Liga stars on their roster set to play in 2015: Raul Gonzalez, Marcos Senna and Ayoze Garcia. Further, they have former MLS starters Carlos Mendes, Hunter Freeman, and now Adam Moffat. The star power is starting to surface for the Cosmos. They are still anticipating approval of their proposed stadium in Elmont Long Island, which is slated to be the premier soccer stadium in the United States if it is built according to their plans. While the delay in getting the stadium approved is frustrating for fans, it is still a proposal that benefits all parties involved. It would not surprise me in the least if Garber or NYCFC have a hand in delaying the approval of the proposed Cosmos Stadium.

Cosmos supporters are among the best in the country even if they are small in numbers when compared to other supporters groups in the United States. One thing that they can always be proud of however is their love for the Cosmos. It is organic, genuine and their groups are completely independent of the Cosmos organization. If you have come this far and are curious about why you haven’t cheered for the Boys in Green in Long Island, its ok. Just click on one of the links below. Its never too late to open your eyes and abandon the organization that Don Garber’s temper tantrums have spawned.

Cosmos Country awaits.

-New York Cosmos Website
-Cross Island Crew – Long Island’s Cosmos Supporters Group

Borough Boys – The Cosmos Supporters Group In The Five Boroughs

-La Banda Del Cosmos Website – Cosmos Supporters Group Bringing The Carnival Style of Latin America To New York!

-Highlights of Cosmos Victory of Red Bulls – June 2014

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8 Responses »

  1. Nice read Cesar and something for NY soccer fans to think about.

  2. Cesar,

    Thanks for all of the efforts that you invested into you piece. It was an enjoyable read.

    Having said that, let me get one major point out of the way before I go any further: I’m not a New Yorker and I don’t have any delusions about telling people who they should support (or not), especially in a region that I don’t live in.

    If they support a local club then I think that it helps grow the sport and I pretty much view it as something positive (as opposed to not caring enough to do so).

    Just a few of the points that I’d like to make:

    I think that your implication that MLS with a salary cap is stifling the soccer dreams of American youth is a bit of a stretch.

    • Also think that the you are entitled to view the MLS and NASL however you’d like but the co-first division thing is something that I’ve found to be quite amusing since I first heard it mentioned seven or eight years ago before the modern day NASL was founded by USL defectors.

      The USSF considers MLS to be first division and the NASL to be second division. When an NASL club makes it to a US Open Cup final on a regular basis, maybe the argument about being a similar product on the field will begin to sway me a bit. But the results don’t lie.

      Your point about an NASL that is hoping that the Cosmos will somehow propel them to something more than the second division isn’t grounded in reality. A merger doesn’t even seem to be a realistic possibility–no matter how much Misters Davidson, Peterson and a few others who sit in board rooms hope that it could be.

      It’s wonderful that the Cosmos are paying so well. No other club in the NASL can afford to do so, nor will they be able to pay anything similar unless they can tap into Cosmos type capital.

      So even the NASL with 3 DP’s (or even one comparable DP) premise is a HUGE stretch.

      You mentioned Virginia and OKC coming into the league next year. Try calling VA’s front office and you’ll get a “number no longer in service” message. The OKC project might kick of next year but they will have an uphill battle with the USLPRO club that will have beat them to the field by at least two years. Arguably, OKC’s big investor defected to the USLPRO club.

      The Cosmos are an interesting project and I wish them the best. The NASL has a product that I enjoy but no amount of NASL Kool-Aid is going to convince me that the Cosmos will be a huge enough factor to make the NASL more than what it is now: an economically and resource challenged second division to MLS.

      Aspiring to develop into something greater is admirable but the reality disconnect with some of the NASL supporters is a bit confusing to me. With some in the league office, I get it. If you aren’t buying what they are selling then you are not the right fit for the organization.

      I just don’t get it from some of the otherwise incredibly rational fans.

      Best of luck to the Cosmos and thanks a lot for the piece.

      Yankiboy
      (Jay Long)

  3. Hi Jay,

    Thanks so much for taking the time to read a lengthy piece and thanks also for your comments as I’m always appreciative of reader comments!

    Personally where I live, we have an abundance of soccer leagues between the ages of 4 and 12. When youngsters reach high school, they get enamored with the other sports primarily because coaches and even their parents have told them that there isn’t a future in soccer. Its been like that for well over 20 years. Something has to change at some point right? Personally, I feel that the salary cap has a lot to do with it. Further, it isn’t helping our chances of developing our USMNT. Heck the USMNT coach himself doesn’t want people playing in MLS! lol

    You point with respect to the open cup final is well taken- I would love to see an NASL side in the final and I don’t think we are too far from that. However if MLS considers itself D1, why would they ever lose to a D2 team? If an NASL victory over an MLS side was rare then I would write it off as luck. But it happens all too often to be taken as luck. The occurrences are increasing each year that goes by as well. I believe someone brought to my attention this past fall the records of MLS sides vs NASL sides in the past three years – it was very close to .500. How does that make MLS much better than NASL?

    As for your opinions about the NASL being economically challenged, I wouldn’t deny that. I still cringe at watching some of the telecasts from the other teams! However, you cannot deny that they are growing at a swift pace, perhaps faster than MLS has grown. I believe that Don Garber recently said that at twenty years old, they were entering their college years. Well at three years old, I would consider the NASL a pretty mature toddler heading into a pretty advance pre-school with a good head on its shoulders.

    Surely the NASL has a lot more hurdles to clear. I like that they are bringing in solid investors as owners of their clubs. San Antonio has always done great with their crowds. Indy has done a phenomenal job selling out all of their home matches this year. Minnesota had a terrific year and in my opinion should have won the soccer bowl. Don’t forget they also have Miguel Ibarra who got called up to the USMNT. Just this winter the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers added Brazil’s Ronaldo as a minority owner and is already looking to scout talent in Brazil over to the Strikers.
    As you can see, its not only the Cosmos who have found success.

    Going back to my piece, my view on MLS was really centered around NYC. Surely the MLS can and should exist in other parts of the country but they really don’t need to be in NYC and clearly shouldn’t be doing it the way they are doing it with NYCFC. I know folks can’t stand the kool-aid that NASL fans are drinking – maybe we are a bit ambitious! .But fans of the NASL can’t understand why MLS thinks they are superior when they have done nothing to prove that they are. NY, Minnesota, San Antonio and Ft. Lauderdale could all exist and fare rather well in the MLS – but of course we will never know that will we?

    As always I welcome any more comments or opposing views – the US Soccer debate is indeed a healthy one!

    • Cesar,

      I agree with anyone who says that NYCFC has already proven itself to be a much richer ChivasUSA in ManCity Blue with Pinstripes, no less!

      If I bought a season ticket plan based on the Lampard signing, I’d be complaining about the “old bait and switch” con.

      In every country that I can think of, first division clubs fall to lower division clubs. That’s what makes cup tournaments so exciting for me. I love seeing the underdogs getting the better of the bigger clubs. It’s my favorite aspect of that type of tournament.

      But even if a lower division club knocks off a higher division club, it doesn’t magically erase the fact that the clubs are playing on different tiers.

      I’m always interested
      in dialogue about two of my favorite leagues, the two that I care the most about.

      I’m glad to be enjoying the fruit of your labors, again. I’ve always enjoyed your commentary in the various forums.

      Hopefully I will be able to have a really good reason to travel from the Baltimore-DC area and get up for a Cosmos match sometime this year.

      My fingers are crossed. We’ll see if the good news that I’m hoping for and has been rumored materializes or not…

      • Hi Jay,
        By all means I am enjoying the conversation here!

        I would agree 100% that NYCFC has much more money that Chivas but that doesn’t change the fact that their interests will always be more important than NYCFC’s!

        As for your cup examples in other countries, I have heard that case from many people who prefer MLS. But I struggle to accept that argument because in those countries the ultimate way to prove yourself is to earn your way into the top league. I recall MK Dons embarrassing Man United last year (sorry Man U fans). There is no way that I can imply that MK Dons is equal to Man U because they beat them in a cup match. Of course, MK Dons has never made it our of League One in England.

        Sadly NASL sides don’t have that chance here in the US. For me, the Open cup is the only proving ground that exists and they’ve handled it pretty well.

        If you do happen to travel from the DC area, please let me know. I would love to have you as my guest to a match and I am being sincere with my invite. Drinks and food at our tailgate are also on the table. Great soccer conversation is hard for me to pass up! 🙂

        Cheers!

  4. Also one more tidbit you forgot to add….MLS is losing collectively around $100 million dollars according to Garber, so when you think about it if they didn’t get NYCFC on board they would be losing $200 million.

    • To be honest – other than the $100 million entry fees that MLS keep collecting from teams, i wonder what money they are making? What happens when the $100 million entry fees stop and players ask for more money?

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