By Peter Schwartz
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Stop me if you’ve heard this before.
A professional team with multiple championships leaves Long Island.
After the merger with the NBA, the New York Nets took their two ABA championship banners from the Nassau Coliseum and moved to New Jersey in 1976. Then, after 43 years and four Stanley Cups at the Coliseum, the Islanders, moved to Brooklyn in 2015 because they were unable to secure a new arena in the county.
And now, it could happen again and similar to the Islanders’ exodus it involves a facility issue.
This past Sunday, the New York Cosmos won their second straight NASL Soccer Bowl title and third in the four years since their reboot season of 2013. For the second straight season, the Cosmos hosted the championship game, but unlike last year’s 3-2 win over Ottawa in front of over 10,000 fans at Hofstra University’s Shuart Stadium, last week’s dramatic win over Indy in a penalty kick shootout was played in front of just 2,150 fans at the much smaller Belson Stadium on the campus of St. John’s University.
That’s because Shuart Stadium, the Cosmos’ home over the past four seasons, was “not available.” Just like last year, there were high school football playoff games on Saturday, but last year the Cosmos were able to host the final on Sunday. This year, the answer was “no.” The answer was also “no” to hosting the game during week and it was “no” again to hosting the game this weekend.
Basically, Hofstra was being uncooperative.
Without another suitable venue in the area and a reluctance to give up hosting the game, the Cosmos decided to play the game at Belson Stadium in Queens, a pitch they were familiar with, having played four U.S. Open Cup matches there over the last three years. So after hoisting their eighth Soccer Bowl trophy over both eras in franchise history, the Cosmos are now in search of a new home.
As it turns out, the Cosmos’ semifinal victory over Rayo OKC on Nov. 5 just might have been their final game at Hofstra. And it appears as if the Cosmos might be following in the footsteps of the Islanders.
A report from the popular local soccer website http://www.bigapplesoccer.com this week indicates that Hofstra officials “are not interested in hosting games next season.”
The report also indicates that the Cosmos are leaning towards playing their home games next season at Coney Island’s MCU Park, the home of the Brooklyn Cyclones minor league baseball team.
Last year, the Cosmos played a regular season game and their NASL semifinal match at MCU Park, but there were complaints about the field. If the Cosmos make the decision to play there next season, they would have to acquire a temporary pitch that would be placed over the baseball field, similar to what Rayo OKC had to do at their home stadium this season.
While a final decision has not been made, the reality is that the Cosmos shouldn’t have to worry about where to play their home games. That’s because had everything gone according to plan, this would have been their first season at a soccer-specific 25,000-seat stadium as part of a privately financed $400 million mixed-use complex in Elmont on Long Island. But the Cosmos, as well as other groups that submitted proposals, are still waiting for an answer from the state.
In 2012, the Empire State Development Corporation issued a request for proposal for development on two parcels of land next to Belmont Park. The Cosmos submitted a plan called “Elmont Town Crossings” that, as per a request from the state, was revised in 2015. The proposal included the stadium, a hotel, nine restaurants and 300,000 square feet of retail space to be built south of Hempstead Turnpike and east of the Cross Island Parkway.
Four years later, there’s been no decision from the state.
As the Cosmos wait for an answer on their potential long-term home, their new short-term venue could be 27 miles west of Hofstra, which was just about a Jimmy Maurer goal kick away from their practice facility at Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale. So just like the Islanders, the Cosmos could very well continue to practice on Long Island and then schlep to Brooklyn to play their games.
It’s mind-boggling that Long Island could lose another professional sports franchise because of a lack of vision.
In the Islanders’ case, it was a more than decade-long quest for a new arena before former majority owner Charles Wang struck a 25-year deal to move the team to Barclays Center. In this case, the Cosmos are proposing a project that would not only give the Elmont community a state-of-the-art stadium, but also a retail/entertainment complex that would create jobs and become a destination point for so many people on Long Island and Queens.
To me, it seems like a no-brainer, but four years later, the Cosmos are still waiting for an answer. They’re still hoping for a “yes,” but if the answer is “no” they could move on to another option for a long-term home. In the interim, it’s a real head-scratcher as to why Hofstra appears to have ended its relationship with a franchise that brought thousands of people to the campus each year. Why wouldn’t you want people to see the university?
The bottom line is, while they determine their long-term situation, the Cosmos need a place to play next season. Moving to Brooklyn would certainly make it easier for New York City-area soccer fans to be a part of Cosmos Country, but the core fans on Long Island would have to battle the Belt Parkway to get to home matches.
All because New York State can’t make up its mind and Hofstra University told the Cosmos to fuggedaboutit!
Don’t forget to follow Peter on Twitter at @pschwartzcbsfan