When I was much, much younger, soccer was on the ascent in North America, due to the North American Soccer League (NASL). Helped by Pele (still popular here as you can see below) and the New York Cosmos, who enjoyed average crowds over 40,000 for three straight seasons, it looked like soccer might become a major sport, but overspending on player salaries soon ended that dream and the NASL folded after the 1984 season. Still, the league had given the sport a foothold in North America, enough that the 1994 World Cup was awarded to the U.S. just a few years later.
As a requirement for the World Cup, a Division 1 league needed to be formed. A year before the World Cup was held, the U.S. Soccer Federation selected Major League Professional Soccer to be this league; two years later the name was changed to Major League Soccer with ten teams beginning play in 1996. After a rough start, the league flourished over the next decade and the American soccer pyramid became a legitimate development tool. The United Soccer League had two divisions below the MLS that essentially operated as the second tier in the pyramid, although without the promotion and relegation that characterizes European leagues. The organization was sold by Nike in 2009 and some teams decided to breakaway to form another, more professional league to fill the void between the MLS and the USL, which was not strong enough to be considered a true Division 2 league. These teams chose to name their new circuit after the old NASL, to honour the pioneering spirit shown by that league.
The new NASL began play with eight clubs in 2011 and although one team in Puerto Rico was suspended and the Montreal Impact moved to MLS, the league has acquired new franchises, including a reboot of the Cosmos, who joined midway through last season. With the league playing a split campaign, the Cosmos skipped the spring session, beginning play in August and using the James M. Shuart Stadium on the campus of Hofstra University as their home ground. The stadium was used by the original Cosmos who won their first championship there in 1972 and the mojo must have remained as the new club promptly won the fall season and then defeated the spring champion Atlanta Silverbacks in the Soccer Bowl in Atlanta.
The team had the winter to further establish themselves as a sporting alternative on Long Island, and as one of the local Stadium Journey correspondents, I decided to visit their home opener to judge their progress.
James M. Shuart Stadium
Hofstra is located right next to the Nassau Coliseum, which is painfully far on public transit for those of us in New York City. Fortunately, the Cosmos run a free shuttle from Mineola LIRR station which makes getting there a whole lot quicker, although slightly more expensive with one-way, off-peak tickets from the city running $8. If you do drive, parking is $5 across the street and $10 nearer to the stadium.
Game tickets range from $15 to $35 (well, there are $95 club seats but I can't imagine anyone paying that as there isn't a bad seat in the place). With a capacity of nearly 12,000 and average crowds just over half that, there is always plenty of room along the sideline, especially high up which is the best place to sit for soccer. In other words, pay $15 for a ticket and sit where you want as there are no ushers anyway.
The supporters sit behind the north goal and make noise throughout the game, but the highlight to me was when they set off a fire extinguisher just before kickoff.
There are also Cosmos Girls who run around after a goal and perform at halftime. As was pointed out to me by a fellow Stadium Journeyer, you know when you are in the northeast when all the dancers are brunette!
Overall, this is a decent place for a game, but the marketing effort put in by the club shows. Nearly 8,000 were on hand for the opener with plenty of families showing that soccer has a bright future here. The way the Cosmos played, I'd guess they have a pretty bright future as well.
The game was a rematch of the championship with the Silverbacks in town. The Cosmos kicked off (above) to start the proceedings and after a slow start, began to dominate play, attacking the goal with some regularity. Their persistence was rewarded in the 23rd minute when captain Carlos Mendes, a Mineola native who spent seven seasons with the New York Red Bulls was able to direct home a rebound with Silverbacks keeper and Salvadoran international Derby Carillo on his back after he made a great save off a free kick from Marcos Senna (below).
Nine minutes later the Cosmos again attacked an Ayoze banged home another rebound. Just six minutes after that, Mendes was left unmarked off a corner kick and slotted home to make it 3-0, with all three goals coming from defenders. For Mendes, the brace marked his first professional goals in over ten years and the local fans were quite happy for their hometown hero.
With the game pretty much decided in the second half, the Cosmos played more defensively and Atlanta had some chances but could not manage a goal, although they looked good in their attempts as Deon McCaulay, who led CONCACAF with 11 goals for Belize during World Cup Qualifying, demonstrated with a bicycle kick (above). Against the run of play, New York managed a fourth goal when Norwegian Mads Stokkelien headed home a cross from Sebastian Guenzatti in the 72nd minute to close out the scoring. If you care, you can watch the highlights on YouTube.
Overall, this was a fun game to attend and for me, a bit of an eye-opener. There is a lot of talent here, some of it young and unproven while others are on the downside of their career, much like AAA baseball or the AHL. I should have studied the lineups beforehand. Unfortunately, the location of Shuart Stadium precludes regular visits for me but the NASL is a league worth following if you enjoy soccer.
Mendes was named the NASL player of the week for his efforts.
The Ottawa Fury began playing in the NASL this season and will be using the 24,000 seat TD Place as their home ground. I hope to get up there for a game this summer too, but if you happen to live in the area, get out there and support your team!
Pele was in attendance as a new plaque was unveiled in his honour and Pele t-shirts were handed out to all fans, you can see one below.
Lots of baseball. I keep saying I'm going to cut down on my games, but I'm an addict and when there is cheap pro baseball, I have to go.