Club need to maintain interest
6 August ~ The sun shone, the cheerleaders jumped, the oversized Pelé cutout heads wobbled in the crowd and, for the first time since 1984, a team called the New York Cosmos won a professional football match. On Saturday the Cosmos beat the Fort Lauderdale Strikers 2-1 with a fortunate, but probably deserved, injury-time winner. After everything preceding this game, it was a relief to finally watch some football from this new version of an old club. Now the Cosmos have to let history recede a little and concentrate on the future, whatever it holds.
The present for this club is playing in the second half of the second-tier NASL. And Saturday did feel lower league, though not necessarily in a bad way. For now, the Cosmos play on the plastic pitch of Hofstra University’s Shuart Stadium, around 25 miles east of New York City. Seeing the opposition players warming up next to the entrance underneath the stands on getting into the stadium was unexpected. But it made a refreshing change from the sub-Premier League pomposity that can appear at some MLS games.
Understandably on the first game back, former stars Pelé, Carlos Alberto and goalkeeper Shep Messing were “introduced” to the crowd. A large flock of Canada geese flew over the ground during an overwrought national anthem. The supporters were enthusiastic but understandably a little out of practice. The Cosmos then took the lead with a scrappy but important goal from Bosnian-American forward Peri Marosevic just before half time. At the interval, people flocked to the merchandise tent, past stalls selling organic fruit and Cuban food.
For this special occasion at least there was a healthy crowd. The club announced the attendance as a “sell-out” 11,929, but there were empty spaces. Some criticisms of the Cosmos have been based on their perception as just a team of the past. Yet, now they have started playing again, this was definitely not an old crowd. The fans of previous generations may well have come along out of nostalgia but they brought their children and grandchildren too. Families wore very old or very new Cosmos colours, but also Barcelona, Chelsea and New York Red Bulls shirts.
This incarnation of the club has always been very honest and vocal about starting small and building gradually. But maintaining decent attendances is going to be the major challenge for the Cosmos. It’s fine that people turn up on a historic summer’s evening to see Pelé wave, but the crowd on a rainy autumn night remains to be seen. Retaining this interest will partly depend on the Cosmos’ form.
It was difficult to tell how this team will do from just one match against Fort Lauderdale. The Strikers only scored ten goals and lost eight of their 12 games in the first half of the season. They equalised in the 73rd minute, however, before former Serie B striker Alessandro Noselli won the game for the Cosmos after a mistake from the visiting defence.
The post-match press conference was dominated by Carlos Alberto and Messing rather than current head coach (and former Swansea striker) Gio Savarese, which was a shame. Pelé himself had sloped off early. Savarese was both optimistic and guarded about the future: “We’re very happy to have started the future of the Cosmos. Today’s match was a complicated one, like all of them will be in this league... It’s difficult to put a timeline on this. Patience is the best virtue for us right now.” Ed Upright