December 30, 2016
THE YEAR'S BEST -- NO. 1
The fabulous rise and the incredible fall of the Cosmos
By Michael Lewis
|Cosmos midfielder Juan Arango was named NASL MVP on the strength of his overall play and production (15 goals, 7 assists).
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
No one saw it coming.
If they did, they were probably a liar or a time traveler from the future.
Only weeks after the Cosmos secured their second North American Soccer League title in a row and third in four years, they ceased operations.
To go from the highest of highs -- winning a league championship to facing extinction in a matter of weeks -- is unheard of in professional American sports, and that includes soccer.
Yet, the Cosmos managed to lose millions and millions of dollars since they returned to competitive soccer in 2013. There have been estimates of the losses going beyond the reported $50 million amount.
Regardless of the financial headaches, the Cosmos proved to be the best team in the 12-team league. They did not have a "sexy" team with some super big names as Marcos Senna and Raul as they had in past years, but boasted a deep roster that survived international call-ups, injuries, trades and defections throughout most of the season.
Head coach Giovanni Savarese must get much of the credit for that as he assembled a talented and creative team that sometimes had more competitive practices than the games themselves.
“We knew it was going to be difficult,” he said the night the Cosmos won Soccer Bowl. “They showed today they would be difficult to break down. We want to close the best way possible this year.
“When you do it back-to-back, it shows consistency by players. The players didn’t want to defend a championship. They want to win another.”
They did suffer a number of losses during the season, which included regular or key players.
The missing included:
* Former Croatian international midfielder Niko Kranjcar, who signed for the spring season, decided to join Glasgow Rangers (Scotland) during the summer transfer window.
* Midfielder Michael Lahoud, who was on loan from the Philadelphia Union, was recalled by the Major League Soccer team and then sold to Miami FC, an NASL rival
* Defender-midfielder Gabriel Farfan, who played with the Cosmos in the spring season on loan from Chipias (Mexico), agreed to a deal with Miami for the fall season.
* And veteran right back Hunter Freeman, who was lured to Miami in late August as the Cosmos allowed him to sign with the club. Miami contacted Freeman before talking to New York, which sounds like an obvious case of tampering, but no one complained.
The Cosmos' off-field headaches began when Hofstra University, their landlords at Shuart Stadium, told them they could not host Lamar Hunt/U.S. Open Cup games at the venue anymore. That forced the team to play the New England Revolution at Belson Stadium, home of St. John's University (the Cosmos lost the lead and eventually the game, 3-2). Later on Hofstra told the club it could not return for the 2017 season, sparking speculation that the Cosmos would move to MCU Park in Brooklyn.
Despite those setbacks, the Cosmos thrived on the pitch and forged ahead to win the fall season with a 14-3-5 record and 47 points and the overall title with a 20-7-7 mark and 65 points, an impressive 10 points ahead of second-place Indy Eleven. That allowed them to host both ends of The Championship.
While he might not have be as well known as the aforementioned Raul and Senna, midfielder Juan Arango is considered a soccer god in his native Venezuela, which he proved on the field for the Cosmos. He earned NASL MVP honors with a stellar season (15 goals, 7 assists). At one juncture, he converted three consecutive free kicks, a feat that is unheard of at any serious level of the game.
Arango was far from a one-man show. Goalkeeper Jimmy Mauer, after he was benched at mid-year, was a solid presence in the net. Adam Moffat turned into a stablizing forward in the midfield and contributed eight goals, most from penalty kicks. Costa Rican forward Jairo Arrieta contributed seven goals. Center back Carlos Mendes and left back Ayoze, NASL Best XI selections, were pillars on a backline that allowed only 29 goals, second fewest in the league.
Arango continued his scoring heroics in the postseason, connecting for a 90th-minute winner to lift the Cosmos to a 2-1 win over Rayo OKC in the semifinals.
Because Shuart was unavailable for the final, the Cosmos were forced to host the Soccer Bowl at Belson and could not fill the 2,500-capacity stadium. A crowd of 2,150 watched New York secure the title, winning in penalty kicks, 4-2, after playing Indy Eleven to a scoreless tie over 120 minutes.
Late-season signing Ryan Richter converted the game-winning kick.
Only weeks later, the roof caved in on the club as it ceased operations with debts ranging in the millions. The players were released, although the team kept Savarese and his coaching staff.
The team has been taken to court by its landlord for failure to pay for rent on its Garden City, N.Y. offices.
Ayoze lashed out at the team's owners in Marca, a Spanish newspaper.
"It has been painful, regrettable ... that they have let die like this to a historical club through which they have passed several of the best players of all times," he told the Spanish newspaper. "It is all the fault of a disastrous management, I do not know if they realize of what ... they have achieved. We did not think it was going to disappear, but it did not surprise us, either. It was commented on during the year that the club was looking for a new owner to move on."
Two players already have signed with new clubs with others reportedly talking to other teams.
Arrieta has joined Heredia in his native Costa Rica and veteran midfielder Danny Szetela, who scored that 11th-hour goal to lift the Cosmos to a 1-0 victory over New York City FC in the Open Cup this year, has inked a deal with the San Francisco Deltas, an NASL expansion team for 2017 (that's if the league survives).
There have been reports the Cosmos owners, including chairman Seamus O'Brien, have been negotiating with potential investors or owners from the New York area to keep the team afloat. Whether that occurs, it remains to be seen.
If it does happen and the Cosmos return for 2017, that might just be considered winning a championship and quite an achievement in itself.