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Charles Cuttone

April 13, 2014
Cosmos opening day still holds promise of years ago

By Charles Cuttone
Executive Editor

Opening day in soccer doesn’t have the same romance in soccer as it does in baseball. Although with the seasons in the United States taking place along roughly the same calendar, some of the clichés that are often applied for baseball, a new beginning, the spring, renewal of the ancient rites of spring could all apply.

The one I am thinking about on this, Cosmos opening day, is of promise yet to be fulfilled. Over the last 40 years, I’ve seen a lot of opening days. For any number of those years, there were no opening days to go to. And in some years, like this one, there is more than one. Sunday’s Cosmos game is the fifth team’s home opener this season I’ve attended.

None have brought out the same memories as Sunday’s game at Hofstra, and none have brought back the thoughts of a spring renewal and the idea of promise still unfulfilled.

When the Cosmos opened the 1976 season at Yankee Stadium, the first soccer opening day I ever attended, it was a bright beginning for the sport.

Pelé was beginning his first full season with the Cosmos, we had moved from ramshackle Downing Stadium on Randall’s Island to the shiny newly re-built Yankee Stadium, and the sport was on the verge of going big-time.

The Cosmos lost to the Chicago Sting 2-1 that day. The only goal for the home team was scored by Pelé. It was in front of a then-team record crowd of 28,536. Even though road games in Portland, Tampa Bay and Minnesota drew well above that, none of us involved with the team at that time dreamed of what would come in the years ahead -- crowds of 70,000 for the following year’s playoffs and an average attendance of 48,000 two years later.

Then the bottom fell out. Within eight years the team and the league were gone. But the promise that was there didn’t go away. It just fell dormant for a while. Large crowds for the 1984 Olympic tournament in loss Angeles were followed by the World Cup in 1994 , the best attended ever, and then soon after a new professional soccer league.

The seeds had been planted, and some of the fruits can be seen all around the soccer landscape in this country. The baseball field I played on as a 10-year-old is now a soccer field, and that nearly 20-year-old pro league, despite some missteps, is solid, and respected in the sports business.

But some of the promise of that bright sunny opening day at Yankee Stadium nearly 40 years ago is still unfulfilled.

Major League Soccer in its early days didn’t want to embrace the legacy of its predecessor. It’s been forced to in recent years, with admission of the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers, and to a lesser degree the Vancouver Whitecaps.

The success of the teams in Portland and Seattle are off the charts compared to the rest of the league, so embracing that legacy has not been a bad thing. As one MLS executive, who is about the same age as I am, said to me, those brands have been around since I was 13. So has the Cosmos brand. But the Cosmos are not playing in the top league in this country, and there are some who question the validity or sanity of being in a second division, or of the league’s aspirations to not be considered such.

But maybe the promise of that opening day will be fulfilled if the Cosmos build their proposed stadium at Belmont Park. A second division team in a $300 million stadium filled to the brim. That’s an opening day to look forward to.

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