New Cosmos Team Could Strengthen NASL and Leave Minnesota Without Pro Soccer
The North American Soccer League announced on Wednesday their newest member of the league, the New York Cosmos. It was a happy day for the league after wooing the Cosmos for years.
“The first week I was on the job last year we had a conversation with the prior ownership group of the Cosmos,” said league commissioner David Downs. “Those discussions were ongoing even prior to my starting on the job. This has been a long process. But from the very beginning we all thought that this was a no brainer, that we were the appropriate place for the Cosmos to return to the field because of the economics of our business model.”
Downs said the addition of the Cosmos strengthens the NASL and their ownership groups, including improving their visibility. The NASL Commissioner said that even though the former ownership group of the Cosmos led by CEO Paul Kemsley was lacking financial backing, the new group, Sela Sport of Saudi Arabia, who purchased the Cosmos name in November of 2011, have the financial wherewithal to meet the USSF D2 Standards.
“That’s not even a question,” said Downs. “I think the decision they made to join the NASL in the immediate moment is that this is the right place for them to return to professional soccer.”
Earlier in the day, MLS Commissioner Don Garber seemed supportive of the move. “We welcome the Cosmos’ entrance to the NASL,” Garber said in a press release. “Having a vibrant second division is important to the overall growth and popularity of soccer in North America, and we are pleased to see the NASL add a new franchise.”
Downs was reluctant to talk about the motives of the Cosmos and their possible desire to eventually move up to MLS. “Right now they are committed to play for us, because this is the right thing, right now, and no decision has been made about their long term future.”
Garber was a bit more direct about the possibility of the Cosmos eventually moving to MLS. “Major League Soccer remains committed to securing an expansion team in New York City,” said Garber. “The current focus is on exploring a stadium site, but we will continue discussions with several potential ownership groups, including the Cosmos, about the possibility of joining the efforts to bring a second MLS team to New York.”
While the earlier press release from the NASL did not name a venue for the Cosmos, some reports were targeting Hofstra Stadium as a site of interest. “We are not at liberty to say what venue they are trying to secure,” said Downs. “Obviously, as we did our due diligence in evaluating their bid we were told by the Cosmos that they have certain options for a venue that pass our muster and that could be one of them.”
Downs said he expects the Cosmos to make an announcement on their 2013 venue soon.
In late May, Downs had told IMS that there would be several new teams that would be annouced as additions to the league and would kick off in 2013. Downs says that’s still a possibility but time is growing short to announce for next year.
“We have not gone past the date where we may announce another team for 2013 beside the Cosmos,” Downs said. “If we did announce a team for 2013 we would need to do it fairly soon if it’s a team starting from scratch. If it’s an existing team that’s changing leagues that would give us a bit more time to make an announcement.”
Downs clarified an “existing team” as one that had prior or current experience as an organized team like the USL or NPSL. “One that had an existing brand name, an existing soccer structure,” said Downs.
Late in the afternoon, Steven Goff reported on a group in Loudoun County, Northern Virginia who are interested in obtaining an NASL franchise. “They have been very impressive,” Downs told Goff on his Soccer Insider blog. “We’re well along in the process.”
The ownership group, who have plans to build a 5,500 seat stadium, is moving forward with their plan but not fast enough for Downs. “We want them to be ready to commit sooner rather than later. The pressure is on them to move faster” in order to secure an expansion slot.
Downs had nothing new to add on the targeted markets in the west that include San Diego, Phoenix, Albuquerque, Las Vegas and Sacramento. Downs says that while there are some level of discussions with all those teams, the process of finding, vetting and then accepting a new team is unique to each situation and on its own timeline.
On the down side of the Cosmos announcement is Minnesota. The NSC Stars rose from the ashes of the Minnesota Thunder who folded at the end of the 2009 season. With the NASL trying to gather enough teams to break away from the USL, the National Sports Center fielded a team in 2010 called the NSC Minnesota Stars.
It was obvious after the ’10 season that the NSC would not be able to meet the financial requirements that were set by the USSF in August of of that same year. Needing 8 teams to make the FIFA requirement for a league, the NASL team owners funded Minnesota in 2011 and 2012. According to several interviews that were given by Stars CEO Djorn Buchholz, the league had promised to support the team for 3 years while the NASL and newly named Minnesota Stars FC attempted to find new owners.
But with a strong Cosmos ownership group coming into the NASL, that three years may be cut short, according to Downs.
“I think it puts the pressure on the Stars to find a owner sooner rather than later,” Downs said. “Each of the team owners share in the burden of supporting Minnesota equally. It will require a budget approval of our league’s Board of Governors at our October meeting to agree to support Minnesota on that basis going forward if we haven’t found an owner. I don’t dare predict the outcome of that vote and I would say that technically we wouldn’t need them to meet the 8-team minimum. I think that would be a serious concern.”
“That doesn’t mean I’m not a fan of the Minnesota Stars franchise and that I don’t believe that a team can be successful in the Minneapolis area. I’ve been following them personally, we’ve been working with the mayor’s office, we’ve been doing everything in our power to find someone to step in and take over the team because it’s got a storied history and been around, perhaps under different names, for a long, long time. (23 years) They are our defending NASL Champions and there are all sorts of things to love about them. I’m even a fan of the market. For all those reasons we are working hard to rectify the situation. Unfortunately for Minnesota, a NASL with 8 teams, with the Cosmos replacing Minnesota, is an arguably a stronger NASL then the current one in 2012.”
Downs admits the Minnesota Vikings trumpeting their possible desire for an MLS team some time in the future hasn’t helped the Stars’ cause to find new owners and says the Vikings don’t seem to be interested in acquiring the Stars.
“It does complicate matters I think,” said Downs.”The position they are taking is that they are going to make a decision about their interest in soccer somewhere down the road that permits them to put a team in their new stadium some 5-6-7 years from now. It’s hard for me to even figure out when they can trigger that option. I don’t know that has helped the situation. They didn’t seem to be interested in getting involved earlier to set the stage for all of this.”
Downs told IMS in May that the NASL had informal discussions with the Vikings about purchasing the Stars while trying to build a fan base to work towards MLS, much the same as the Cosmos seem to be doing. Downs said he personally has never talked to the Vikings but said people who represent the league have talked to the NFL organization. He said today that he is unaware of anyone from the NASL talking to the Vikings since the stadium bill was signed.
“We haven’t gotten that done yet,” said Downs.
Meanwhile the clock seems to be ticking on the Minnesota Stars.