Andrew Murstein Says In-Limbo Soccer Team Sought Partnership Before Ever Playing First Game

By Peter Schwartz
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To say that the future of the New York Cosmos is unclear would be an understatement.

Amid reports that the franchise has “ceased operations” with players being released and most of the staff being let go, there doesn’t seem to be much of a chance they will field a team, in any league, in 2017. But, owner Seamus O’Brien has reportedly been negotiating with New York City-based GF Capital about investing in the team, which could perhaps lead to another reboot down the road.

In a report from Empire of Soccer, a laundry list of rumored investors dating back to 2014 are mentioned, including Andrew Murstein, the owner of the New York Lizards lacrosse team and the founder/president of Medallion Financial Group in New York City.

According to the report, Murstein’s name came up during the latter part of this year but there was some question as to if he actually had any communication with the Cosmos.

As it turns out, Murstein indeed spoke to the Cosmos, but it wasn’t this year. It was actually more like 2013, before the Cosmos reboot was underway.

“It was a few years ago,” Murstein told exclusively. “I think before they played their first game. My guess would be four years (ago). I had a few meetings with them at our offices.”

Andrew Murstein (Credit: New York Lizards)

Andrew Murstein (Credit: New York Lizards)

The fact that the two teams chatted actually makes sense since the Cosmos were going to play at Hofstra University’s Shuart Stadium, which is also the home of the Lizards. At that time, the Cosmos had submitted a proposal to New York state to build a 25,000-seat stadium next to Belmont Park. Since both sports are played on similar sized fields, it could have been a no-brainer to have the Lizards play at the new stadium as well.

We now know that the Cosmos are in limbo and the stadium is not going to be built, but now we also know that those discussions between the Cosmos and the Lizards didn’t go very well.

“They didn’t last more than a few days,” recalled Murstein. “We were not a believer in minor league soccer, and they also had a very high-price expectation. It was actually extraordinarily high, like $100 million dollars. We explored either investing in the team, them investing in our Major League Lacrosse team or even combining the two teams into one ownership group.”

But the talks failed to produce a deal, so the Cosmos and Lizards went their separate ways. The Cosmos went on to win three North American Soccer League championships in four years, including 2015, when the Lizards captured the MLL title. Now the Lizards have Shuart Stadium to themselves, as the university didn’t want the Cosmos back anyway even if they were going to field a team.

New York Lizards

The New York Lizards’ Paul Rabil takes a shot against the Boston Cannons on Aug. 1, 2015, at James M. Shuart Stadium in Hempstead, New York. (Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images)

Murstein didn’t think buying into the Cosmos was a good idea and, for the moment, it appears to have been the right move, just like it was years ago when he had a chance to purchase the New York Dragons of the Arena Football League but didn’t. Not long after that, the AFL shut down for a year, and the Dragons never returned.

After deciding not to buy the Dragons, Murstein entered the NASCAR world in 2010, when he purchased Richard Petty Motorsports. Then in 2012, he added to Medallion Sports Properties when he bought the Lizards. Now, after four playoff appearances in five years, including a championship, Murstein has his eyes on expanding his lacrosse empire indoors.

Murstein wants to bring a National Lacrosse League team to the new Nassau Coliseum, which is scheduled to open April 5 with a Billy Joel concert. The refurbished arena will host many sporting events such as college basketball, hockey and boxing, but now it looks like lacrosse could be a possibility.

“We just started to look into it last week,” Murstein said. “I reached out to the Nets about the coliseum site and the NLL last week. I believe there’s something to be said about cross promotion. This way, we could leverage one organization to cover two teams in two different seasons, which complement each other well.”

But just because he didn’t invest in the Cosmos doesn’t mean he doesn’t believe in soccer. It just has to be at the highest level, he said.

“If we invested in soccer at all, it would’ve been into MLS,” Murstein said. “I am not a big believer in investing in second-tier companies or sports leagues. I don’t believe a lower level team can be successful.”

When you think about the Cosmos situation, the NASL trying to survive and the United Soccer League trying to gain second division status in the United States, Murstein’s perception about lower-level soccer may not be wrong. The unfortunate byproduct of the Cosmos shutting down is that there are now lots of people looking for jobs during the holiday season.

“I followed a little bit about what happened with the Cosmos,” Murstein said. “Anytime anybody loses their job, whether it’s an athlete or a factory worker, it is very sad. I wish them the best, and I’m sure they will all get back on their feet quickly.”

The fact that the Cosmos were looking for investors before they even stepped onto the pitch in 2013 is rather eye opening. Perhaps they will re-emerge down the road, but the outcome, for the time being, is sad. There were a lot of very talented people who worked for the Cosmos, but there could be some options for them in the near future.

While the status of the most famous soccer team in United States history is very much up in the air, there are still professional sports on Long Island such as the Lizards and the many planned sporting events at the new coliseum.

Don’t forget to follow Pete on Twitter @pschwartzcbsfan.