Last week saw what was perhaps the most bizarre, and at the same time potentially the most important, signing in American soccer history. Eric Cantona, Manchester United legend and world football icon, was hired to become the Director of Soccer for the New York Cosmos, or I should say for an organization hoping to become the New York Cosmos.
The bizarre aspect of all this is that Cantona has the “overall responsibility for all soccer-related matters” for a team with no players. The Cosmos are currently a club without a team, and with no guarantees that any top-flight team will exist in the near future. Also, I don’t believe Cantona has any knowledge of the MLS or American soccer nor any front-office experience, but obviously that is not the point here.
While Cantona’s position may very well be nothing more than a publicity stunt, it is a publicity stunt with huge significance. What it tells us is that the folks running the Cosmos brand are not only looking to become an MLS franchise, they are looking to once again become the biggest and flashiest soccer team in the country.
As a child growing up in the New York area during the 1970’s, there truly was nothing bigger in sports than the New York Cosmos. I remember going to Giants Stadium packed to the rafters with fellow fanatics to see world-class legends like Franz Beckenbauer and Carlos Alberto. It was certainly the glory days of soccer in the United States. Despite our recent successes with the US Men’s National Team, when the rest of the football world speaks of the United States they still tend to speak in somewhat derogatory terms about our inability to understand or play the sport. But the one phrase they still recognize as a positive in our soccer history is the “New York Cosmos”. It remains our one great contribution to world’s most important game.
That team and those players inspired me to play the sport as a child, which led directly to my adult obsession with the world’s most popular sport. And I am not alone. Since the inception of Major League Soccer, fans of the sport have been waiting for the Cosmos to return. Now that the league has established itself and soccer has made serious progress, it is time for the country’s most storied franchise to return to the pitch.
I have been a fan of the New York franchise in Major League Soccer (once called the Metrostars, now the Red Bulls) since the league began. For those who don’t know much about the MLS, the team has been nothing short of an epic failure on the field, the polar opposite of my first love, the Cosmos, who were the most successful of their generation. But despite those hardships we have stood by the Red Bulls all these difficult seasons. Finally, we now have a stadium, ownership, and players worthy of our support. There is no doubt that should the New York Cosmos enter the MLS they would instantly become our biggest rivals. But I will be honest, it will be very hard for me to root against that shirt.