By Peter Schwartz
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29 years after their demise, the Cosmos return to the North American Soccer League and win their sixth Soccer Bowl!
Back in the late 70's and early 80's, I made frequent trips with my dad to Giants Stadium. Granted, some of them were for Jets and Giants games, but many of them were to see another type of football. That's when Giants Stadium was transformed into Cosmos Country and the sport of soccer galvanized our area.
Backed by the deep pockets of Steve Ross and Warner Communications, the Cosmos spent a fortune of money loading up on international talent like Pele, Giorgio Chinaglia, and Franz Beckenbauer while drawing crowds of 60 and 70,000 fans to the Meadowlands. They won five Soccer Bowls before the team and the league folded following the 1984 season.
Up until a few years ago, all that was left of the Cosmos was lifetime of memories. A former team employee by the name of Pepe Pinton somehow owned Cosmos name and held onto it until he sold it to a group that would eventually resurrect the franchise.
Last year, it was announced that the Cosmos would return to the pitch in the new NASL. That little kid that sat with his dad 10 rows from the top of Giants Stadium for Soccer Bowl '78 is now working for the team as I was fortunate to get the job as Cosmos public address announcer.
The Cosmos played their first competitive match since 1984 on August 3rd when they beat their old rivals the Fort Lauderdale Strikers 2-1. That was just the beginning. The Cosmos picked up right where they left off almost three decades ago. They didn't participate in the NASL's spring season, but won the fall campaign, a berth in the title contest, and captured the Soccer Bowl championship on Saturday night with a 1-0 win over Atlanta.
While some teams in the league were a bit irked that the Cosmos were allowed to play for the championship despite not participating in the spring season, it's clear that the NASL, and soccer in general, has benefited from the return of this storied franchise.
The Cosmos were hated by the other teams in the league back in the day and now that feeling seems to have returned. Saturday's win marked the Cosmos's sixth Soccer Bowl championship and first since 1982.
Just like the Cosmos of old, it was an international star that came up with the big goal as Marcos Senna, a Brazilian-born former member of Spain's 2006 World Cup team, broke a scoreless tie in the 50th minute. Senna spent 11 seasons playing for the Spanish club Villareal and will bring his new team to Spain this week for a match in his honor.
The Cosmos go on a trip to another country for a match? Just like old times!
What is different today from the Cosmos glory years is the landscape of the NASL. The Cosmos, as well as the other current teams, don't play in 80,000 seat stadiums. Instead, the Cosmos now call 11,929 seat Shuart Stadium at Hofstra University which was also their home in their home in 1971 and in 1972 when they won their first championship.
The Cosmos are hoping to have a new home in the near future. They have submitted a proposal to privately finance a 25,000 seat stadium in Elmont next to Belmont Park. It's a project that will also including shopping, restaurants, a hotel, and a public park.
What's also different these days is that the NASL isn't the top level American soccer league. That distinction belongs to Major League Soccer which does not appear to be in the Cosmos future. In 2015, the New York Red Bulls will be joined in MLS by FC New York so the Cosmos will have to carve out their niche in the crowded New York soccer market by playing in the second division league.
The Cosmos' legacy was that they brought attention to the sport, especially in the New York market. Anything that ever happened with soccer in our area always seemed to be compared to when the Cosmos played.
A few years ago, my son played youth soccer and all of the parents came to our home one night to meet the coach. When the subject came to figuring out a name for the team, several of the dads, including myself, suggested "Cosmos". They might have been gone but they weren't forgotten!
When MLS started in 1996, the MetroStars (now Red Bulls) called Giants Stadium home, but never came close to duplicating the success that the Cosmos had. 18 years later, the Metro/Bulls franchise went to just one MLS Cup final and lost. This year, they won the regular season championship but were bounced in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Leave it to the Cosmos to give New York their first soccer championship in 31 years. And they just might get a head to head meeting with the Red Bulls as early as next year in the U.S. Open Cup, a national tournament with teams from all levels of soccer.
During their 29 year absence, the Cosmos were still a relative topic in the soccer community. The history of the franchise carried enough interest that a movie, "Once in a Lifetime" was made documenting the rise and fall of the once-storied franchise. But now that the Cosmos are back and have won the Soccer Bowl, maybe it's time for a sequel to that movie.
"Twice in a Lifetime!"
Follow Peter on Twitter -- @pschwartzcbsfan.
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