Cosmos Chairman Seamus O’Brien discusses MLS vs. NASL, long term plans


Make no mistake; the New York Cosmos chose their path through the U.S. Soccer pyramid.

Cosmos Chairman Seamus O’Brien openly discussed his club’s decision to forgo MLS for NASL, laying out a “10 year plan” to become what he calls the “best club in the United States.”

“We took a simple view,” O’Brien explains.  “We are prepared to invest capital and we have done that, but I would rather invest it in our own business instead of a franchise fee — for exactly the same asset.

“I don’t hold myself out to be a genius,” he quips, “but that was our decision.”

The latest MLS franchise, Manchester City owned New York City FC, paid $100 million in expansion costs to compete in the league.  The yet-to-be-named Los Angeles franchise paid even more for operational rights.  The Cosmos have the funds and backing to be serious contenders in the MLS market.  However, they chose a model in the North American Soccer League that bars an entry fee and allows clubs to operate in what O’Brien dubs “freedom.”

“We went into a model that allowed us to do that, one that allows us to retain the benefits of our work in building our business and reinvesting that to the team in the field of play to be a better team,” he explains.

“If you are looking from the outside, there is a notion one league that has existed 20 years and now there is a lot being written about the financial status of that league, whether it has performed or not. Klinsmann has made [his opinions] clear as the national coach on the competitive nature of the league.

“I know the structure of the league we are in, I know it allows teams and owners to build their business and compete globally.”

O’Brien eschewed the idea that such lavish spending on both players and infrastructure goes counter to the accepted norms of a Division Two side.  In fact, he combats the very idea of hierarchy in the United States, once again turning to Klinsmann to make his point.

“Jurgen Klinsmann had made enough comments about the system,” he reminded.  “Technically, this isn’t D1 or D2. This is two differnt business structures. In the market, you can’t really designate. There is no up and down promotion. We have some players that play in a number of national teams. The standard of the league is rising. We happen to hold our own against anybody. U.S. Open Cup, I think [NASL] have a winning record against MLS teams. That will increase and be a focus every year.

“We would be happy to lay down the challenge to Red Bull or Man City New York to come and give us a game. Bring it on.”

As for the spending, the Cosmos are ready to take a plunge to carve their niche out in the busy New York sports market.  That may be a surprise to those following the team, particularly after last season’s attendance woes.

However, the Cosmos Chairman takes a long view on the project and is quick to point out that the club has already won a championship and established a fan base in a little over 16 months.

“It’s a serious investment over a period of [10 years],” O’Brien explains.  “Everything we have done from the training field at Mitchel field was an investment, (Raul) is an investment, bigger plans would be stadium investment, media channel. We are prepared to invest in every bit of the foundation that will make us the best team in this country.

“Let me be clear,” he continues. “It took 10 years for the first run of the Cosmos to get to the hunt. If we can achieve that in ten years this time around, I would be delighted.

A venture capitalist at heart, O’Brien sees tremendous potential in the Cosmos — and is ready to back up his vision with a strategic, long-term financial plan to bring New York where he believes they should be; at the level of their former prominence.

“Rome wasn’t built in a day,” he said.  “We are 16 months in and I think we are doing ok. We have no limitations on how we are thinking or what we are prepared to do.

“We are only 16 months in. Give us a few years and watch this journey unravel. You will be in for a good ride.”


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  • Joe Bacci

    This is a great article.

    • Brooks

      Just a note: NASL clubs are 11-15 against MLS clubs in the U.S. Open Cup. Not a winning record since the league started in 2011.

      • slowleftarm

        Heard this tired line often. RBNY team that night lacked Henry, Cahill, Olave and Dax – 4 of their 5 best players. You couldn’t even win the minor league you play in this season.

  • MTF

    If your team is great and can compete with MLS, and still can’t draw more than 4,000 people, does it make a sound?

    This is a load of BS. When in history has any team in any sport in any country risen to be the best and not actually compete in the premier competition in that country? If the New York Yankees bolted from MLB to avoid the luxury tax and found a new home in AA Eastern League playing the Trenton Thunder, would anyone take them seriously? The Cosmos can only be as good as the NASL. If they dominate the NASL year in and year out, nobody will take it seriously. If they NASL can’t start to challenge MLS then it’s just talk on the part of the Cosmos.

  • chepe pedos

    NASL the original first division american soccer league… now MLS….and.. NASL… lets be honest, there is no second division here, if there is no relegation or promotion, than there is no second division…Mr. O brien is right. the NASL is the perfect model for a soccer team, no salary cap, more freedom… soccer today, has changed since the the old NASL, millions of fans and millions of kids playing the sport…Both MLS and NASL american players are at the same level…dont see a problem….i remember in 2010 , two USL teams and Two mexican teams were in the concacaf champions league semi finals…MLS and NASL are at the same level people

    • Brooks

      I imagine you mean 2008-2009 Concacaf Champions League (the first edition) where 1 USL team (PRI) made the semi-final with 3 Mexican sides. And that no lower division team has made the knock-out round since that tournament. That doesn’t make MLS and NASL at the same level, no matter how often you want to proclaim it.

      • AS

        Montreal of the USL made the semifinals of the champions league in one year… buy having the ability to spend money where and when they wanted…

        • Brooks

          No, the USL Impact made the quarter-finals in 2008-2009. They came close, but didn’t make the semi-finals.

          • You’re right, but the fact they could do that with free spending does say a lot regardless.

            • Brooks

              And it says a lot that Saputo and the Impact left the “free spending” of USL for MLS a year later.

              • Brooks

                And not to take away anything. It was a great accomplishment considering their modest budget. And especially when the opening rounds and group play format made the Concacaf champions league even tougher for a team to advance to the knockout rounds.

                • Uncle Sam

                  Saputo left the shenanigans of the USL, along with the majority of USL-1 clubs heading into the NASL. In that period, not knowing the future of the league, Saputo made a decision of signing with MLS. Canada CCL berths were being determined by the Canadian Championship, so joining MLS would not have made a difference for CCL entry. However, joining MLS meant that Montreal and Vancouver would stay together (as professional Canadian teams) along with the Toronto MLS team. Keep in mind that both Vancouver and Montreal formed part of the reborn NASL.

                  Today, both of those clubs would benefit from free market.

                  One other thing, when you say the “USL Impact” or “MLS Imapct” it sounds ridiculous. There is only ONE Montreal Imapact club (post Montreal Supra), and they had their men’s outdoor first team play in the APSL / A-League / USL-1; the USSF D2 PL; the NASL; and MLS.
                  Is there a Football League Manchester United that is different from a BPL Manchester United? Is Fulham a different club or team in the Football League than what they were in the BPL? No. It’s the same club and team. Just because a club owns a new franchise to represent a league it doesn’t make their team or club new. (See Orlando City – same club, same men’s first team, new league and a franchise to represent it). Stop following the flaws of Wikipedia articles written by amateurs/people who try to revise soccer history in the US to suit the narratives of MLS. Make the distinction.

    • drm21892

      I definitely agree with a point made earlier that it depends on the rest of the NASL. If teams such as San Antonio, Minnesota United, Indy Eleven, Ottowa Fury, the expansion team Jacksonville Armada and even the new ownership group in Fort Lauderdale truly step their games up in terms of stadiums, roster and infrastructure and continue to grow to coming close to or being on par talent wise with the MLS then the cosmos can become the club they wish to be. I also think gaining entry into Champions League is crucial for the Cosmos to really have the MLS be put on notice. Also, the Cosmos can still build a top flight academy without being in the MLS because they can either retain their players, something MLS teams struggle to do, or sell them to clubs across the pond and reap the benefits from a financial standpoint. No matter what team you support, it is fun having three teams to talk and argue about and it is only going to get better.

  • slowleftarm

    Only problem is they didn’t choose this model. MLS rejected this clown club and now they have to pretend they never wanted in. But the facts are the facts – this team plays in a college stadium in Hempstead in front of 4k fans a game. They spend all their time obsessing over the big boys in MLS, but MLS doesn’t give NASL a second thought. And why should they?

    • Anonymous

      Wrong, The Cosmos turned down MLS and they were pissed.

      • MTFLOR

        Yup, MLS felt so rejected and pissed by the Cosmos’ rejection…they went out and found another group to pay them $100 million for a team in New York. Enough with this Cosmos obsession…nobody under 45 gives a damn about the Cosmos ‘brand.’ This brand and club is overrated by its supporters. Slowleftarm hit the nail on the head.

        • Uncle Same

          Nobody? Except yourself of course who takes his precious time to respond to something that is “irrelevant”. Or maybe they are more important than you think or want to admit.

  • Love love love our owner.

  • Scott McCarthy

    Last time I looked, soccer was still a niche sport on the pro level as far as attention, and in NYC it sits somewhere above the WNBA. The more soccer that draws attention, be in MLS, NASL or some random semi-pro team, it’s a good thing.

    • slowleftarm

      It’s not a niche sport. Soccer is already more popular than hockey (although MLS is not yet more popular than the NHL) and it’s still growing exponentially.

  • steve

    Before they can consider any of this they need to get a proper stadium built.
    2nd would be a major local network in which to promote and Televise all matches.
    OneWorld can produce Broadcasts but if they are not going to be on Networks such as SNY, MSG, or Yes no one will know they exist. Even having an over air network taking in the OneWorld Broadcasts as well as any content around the Cosmos would place them on the NYC metro map. That would need to be done before they consider being a national or international brand
    Laugh if you may but Hartford Conn is searching for a private investor to own/manage a reno’s SSS. Cosmos investing and playing in Hartford in the now. When or if a NYC metro area is OK’d can have a minor league club in Hartford and academy as well as their SSS in NYC Metro.

    • Anonymous

      We need soccer in Hartford. I’m down

  • John

    I think the MLS and NASL can work as two different leagues. What is left out is soccer is a world sport the idea would be to focus on playing in other parts of the world while growing our talent here in the US. MLS has done some correct they have around 19 of there own Stadiums and have signed a nice TV deal with ESP / Spanish Network for games to be on TV every Friday and Sunday during their season if NASL wants to compete they need to do the same. JV

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