Cosmos’ Commisso Sounds Off

IMAGE, STEVE HAMLIN PHOTOGRAPHY

by JAKE NUTTING

As Rocco Commisso settles into his role as the controlling owner of the New York Cosmos, he’s becoming increasingly comfortable expressing his opinion on the state of soccer in the United States.

His opinion is not a favorable one, to say the least.

“Everybody’s bragging about what a great job we’re all doing with American soccer,” he said during the Cosmos media day on Tuesday. “No, we’re not doing a great job.”

The thrust of the critique by Commisso, a cable TV and media entrepreneur, stems from the lack of results from the U.S. men’s national team in the World Cup. He is flummoxed how a nation with the resources and tradition of the U.S. hasn’t reached the semifinals of the tournament since the first World Cup, in 1930.

“Here we are, 80 years later, and we still haven’t had a team, a professional team, a professional, national team that could go out and say ‘We’re the top 10, the top five.’ I mean, what kind of crap is that?” he said. “To date, we have not had a national team that I’m proud of.”

In Commisso’s view, the shortcomings of the national team and the professional leagues are connected to the structure of the game in this country. The recent example of Minnesota United  jumping from the North American Soccer League to Major League Soccer after paying a $100 million expansion fee while the Cosmos were close to extinction after winning two straight NASL titles sticks in his craw.

“Did anyone see the Minnesota game where they lost [6-1]?” he said. “This is exactly what I’m talking about. Because they paid $100 million with another $150 million for the stadium, Minnesota got to the MLS, right? Well, the Cosmos won the championship. In other countries, all over Europe, South America, so on, the Cosmos should be moving up to the MLS, not Minneapolis. I think Minneapolis was the eighth-ranked team in the NASL last year, out of 12. We were No. 1.”

Like many fans who follow leagues around the world, Commisso is a proponent of promotion and relegation. To him, the system makes sense because it fosters competition.

“Typically when you go into business, you accept business as being part of the game and you have to compete,” he said. “Here competition is administered by some god up there that says it is what it is in America.”

Still, he’s pragmatic, believing it is about the people he hires to ensure the Cosmos are successful. That’s a challenge he’s more than willing to take on after a career of embracing adversity.

“If you know the history of Mediacom, I took junk systems in parts of the country that nobody wanted, in rural markets with only 50 customers, not 2.6 million customers,” he said. “I made a company out of it. I was the underdog. … My whole career has been like this, even when I was dropping flyers to sell pizzas at Columbia. I always like the underdog status, making something out of the problems like we had two months ago.”

After emerging at the 11th hour last December to rescue the Cosmos from dissolution, Commisso assetts he’s ready to fight to carve out a more stable spot for them in New York City and the U.S. soccer landscape, regardless of whose feathers he rustles.

“I’ll protect the team, I’ll protect my reputation, but sooner or later I will have my say as to what I see as the future of professional soccer in this country,” he said.

Whatever the outcome, his time as the owner of the Cosmos is going to be entertaining if nothing else.


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