Much like the United States as a whole, professional soccer in New York can be an ever-changing landscape. Teams come and go, especially throughout the lower divisions of the game. At the highest levels, the New York Red Bulls, New York City FC and the New York Cosmos have each cultivated fanbases throughout the metro area. A fascinating element to consider is how two of those clubs could have been one in the same, and would have forever modified the years that followed.
What if the MetroStars had been the New York Cosmos instead?
In the fall of 1995, US Soccer was making good on its promise to FIFA. The rights to host the 1994 World Cup came with a stipulation to create a new first division in the country, and Major League Soccer would launch in 1996 with ten franchises. The New York/New Jersey team would play at Giants Stadium, and a variety of different names were considered by the ownership group.
Originally set to be Empire Soccer Club (which gave birth to the Empire Supporters Club moniker), owners John Kluge and Stuart Subotnick chose to go with the MetroStars. Despite an inconsistent campaign that ended in a playoff loss to D.C. United, the club enjoyed their best average attendance numbers in the inaugural 1996 season, coming in just short of 24,000 (23,898). No doubt buoyed by the excitement of a new league forming, over 45,000 fans attended the MetroStars’ first MLS home game versus the New England Revolution.
One interesting club name that was looked at was the Cosmos, and the history behind that brand still holds plenty of weight today. During the high-flying days of the North American Soccer League (NASL) in the late 1970s, the Cosmos attracted sell-out crowds to the same Giants Stadium that the MetroStars would call home. The likes of Pelé, Franz Beckenbauer and Giorgio Chinaglia made the team a national sensation, and were a dominant force in the sport.
Financial troubles and overexpansion would doom the original NASL and the Cosmos, until they were reborn in 2010 and looked potentially set to join MLS. Even after all those years away from the field, the Cosmos were able to make an impact. They traveled to Old Trafford to play Manchester United, and added the legendary Eric Cantona as a director. Talks with MLS and a possible stadium in Queens eventually broke down, unable to come to an agreement on a variation of different aspects.
The Cosmos would join a new version of the NASL afterwards, once again blazing their own path throughout the jagged and unpredictable world of American soccer. With MLS still anxious to add a second team to the New York area, City Football Group would come into the picture soon and New York City FC entered the league in 2015.
If the MetroStars had become the Cosmos in 1996, things could have been very different in a multitude of ways for not only the MLS franchise, but for the New York soccer scene as well. Former Cosmos manager Eddie Firmani was the MetroStars’ first head coach, and that connection for the clubs may have brought over even more supporters. The glory days of the NASL is still a topic that garners discussion, and the franchise could have been a bridge for nostalgia and the present-day progress of a new league.
For many years, the MetroStars were known by just that name, without a region attached to the title (a rarity in American sports). When Red Bull GmbH purchased the club in 2006, “New York” was put into the name, even though home matches were played in New Jersey. This aspect has become a common thread in terms of banter between Red Bull fans and NYCFC fans, almost by design of Major League Soccer.
There are multiple examples of teams in the US playing outside of the city that they represent, but this decade has seen MLS push to make this a real talking point of key rivalries. A similar scenario is seen on the west coast now with the Los Angeles Galaxy and Los Angeles Football Club, as the Galaxy’s stadium based in Carson becomes the subject of ridicule for the other.
Be that as it may, other sports teams within the Tristate area do not often see this criticism, with the New York Giants and New York Jets of the National Football League standing out in this regard. The Giants played several seasons at Yankee Stadium, while the Jets began life in Manhattan’s old Polo Grounds. This history is something that gives them a link to New York City, and would have been seen with the Cosmos name for the MetroStars.
The Cosmos played at various venues in the metro area, including Downing Stadium (Randall’s Island), Hofstra University on Long Island and the same Giants Stadium field that the Metrostars made their first home. Suddenly, the derisive claims now against the Red Bulls not being a “New York” team are nonexistent.
The Cosmos name would have brought with it a connection to a previous generation, and given the new MLS franchise greater attention both domestically and overseas. Red Bull’s purchase of the club could have produced an entirely different negotiation process, and may have even fallen through. Perhaps a second team in New York City would have been inevitable for the league, but there is no guarantee that things would have worked out the same way for NYCFC. After fielding only an NPSL squad this year, the current Cosmos are contemplating their next step after the new NASL shut down operations for 2018. Instead, they may have been making a push right now for the MLS Cup Playoffs.
There is no correct answer and theory to all this, as the three clubs each have strong support and have crafted a unique identity in the crowded collection of New York professional sports teams. “What If” projections can exist throughout both sports and life, but soccer’s place in New York City is unique, and perceptions can seemingly change in a short period of time. If the MetroStars had been the Cosmos in 1996, a link going back several more decades may have been created. With that decision, the future now could have been completely altered. Maybe even Doc Brown and Marty McFly would have been intrigued enough to check it out.