By Peter Schwartz
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The 2016 season certainly brought about a spectrum of emotions for the Cosmos’ players, coaches, staff and fans.
On the field, everything worked out very well with the fall season title, the top overall seed in the playoffs, as well as the eighth NASL Soccer Bowl title in franchise history and third in four years since the franchise re-boot season in 2013.
The Cosmos also enjoyed success in the U.S. Open Cup, notching a win over Major League Soccer’s New York City FC for the second year in a row.
But off the field, there continued to be questions about the team’s long-term future, specifically where its permanent home would be. While waiting on an answer from New York state for four years on a proposal to build a stadium next to Belmont Park, the Cosmos began their fourth season at Hofstra University’s Shuart Stadium and didn’t lose a game there all season.
But this season, the relationship between the team and the university appeared to crumble. Hofstra would no longer allow the Cosmos to host MLS teams because of security issues and bad behavior, specifically at last year’s match against NYCFC. Then, Hofstra didn’t make the stadium available to the Cosmos for the NASL championship final, forcing the team to play at much smaller Belson Stadium at St. John’s.
Through the ups and downs of the season, there were other concerns made public by the team’s supporters, including the rumors of head coach Giovanni Savarese leaving for an MLS job and the fact that the Cosmos had not announced any season ticket information for 2017 or where the team would be playing their home games, although it has been reported that they are leaning toward MCU Park in Brooklyn.
That is if they even field a team next season.
Cosmos Country was turned upside down Monday with reports that the team had gone through a series of cost-cutting moves, including front office furloughs, delays in payroll and the release of some identified players.
According to CEO Seamus O’Brien, the team is waiting to see what happens at the NASL league meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday, what path the league takes, and what the future of the league is. This has led many reporters and fans to speculate on social media that the Cosmos could be finished.
However, a Cosmos source told WFAN.com on Monday that the rumors of the team’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.
“Are they going to close up shop and go away?” the source with knowledge of the situation told me. “I think that is highly, highly unlikely. That’s not going to happen. This is not the death of the Cosmos after all. It’s not a case of the Cosmos disappearing and going away. It’s a case of what’s the next move. It’s not another 30-year hiatus. That’s not happening.”
Here’s what we do know. After the league meetings conclude, the NASL could look a lot different in 2017. In fact, the league could be on the verge of losing Division II status in the United States. With Minnesota moving to MLS and Tampa Bay and Ottawa jumping to the United Soccer League, the NASL now stands at 11 teams, including the expansion San Francisco Deltas that are scheduled to begin play next season.
But, with Miami FC, Rayo OKC and the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers experiencing financial difficulty, the NASL could be dwindling down to as few as seven or eight clubs. If that ends up being the case, the Cosmos could depart as well, as I’ve been told they want no part of a league that small. The Cosmos also have no intention of following Tampa Bay and Ottawa to the USL because the team feels that playing in a Division III league should not be an option for a club that plays in New York.
So here are the Cosmos’ options for 2017, again, based on the outcome of the NASL meetings this week. There was a report Tuesday morning saying the team had ceased operations, but nothing official had come from the Cosmos, themselves.
So, barring an official announcement of some kind, here is what could still happen:
1. Stay in NASL and hope the league can add some teams in the near future.
2. Reconsider the USL should that league gain Division II status in the United States.
3. Join a different league or perhaps make plans to start a new league.
4. Take the 2017 season off and see what options will be there for the club in 2018. The Cosmos could also be a touring club that puts together a team to play a series of friendlies throughout the year.
The bottom line is that on Monday there were a lot of people that started to jump to conclusions about the Cosmos’ future. We really won’t know what the future holds until the league meetings take place. In fact, the Cosmos don’t even know what lies ahead for them, but it sure sounds to me like there will continue be a New York Cosmos in some way, shape or form.
After Wednesday, the the Cosmos’ future should be a bit clearer.
Don’t forget to follow Pete on Twitter @pschwartzcbsfan. You can also follow @NYCosmos