Cosmos Players Address NASL, USSF Conflict

Carlos Mendes and other Cosmos players share their thoughts on the current threat to the NASL's existence. Photo by NY Cosmos

Cosmos logoUp until Sunday night, New York Cosmos owner and North American Soccer League Chairman Rocco Commisso was the face of the league’s antitrust case against the United States Soccer Federation over the federation’s decision to revoke the North American Soccer League‘s Division 2 status for next year.

After seeing the drama play out in the media and online, several Cosmos players spoke about the situation that has put not only the NASL, but also their livelihoods at risk. Without being granted a preliminary injunction on or about Oct. 31 to maintain the status quo while its lawsuit plays out, the NASL is unlikely to continue operations next year.

Midfielder Danny Szetela and his teammates highlighted the opportunity they’ve found in the NASL. When no Major League Soccer team showed interest in Szetela in 2013 after a major surgery, he found a lifeline with the Cosmos. For Szetela, if the NASL goes away, so many other players in similar situations would lose out on path back to professional soccer.

“The Cosmos and the NASL gave me an opportunity and a chance to continue my professional career,” he said. “I’m forever thankful for that opportunity. I’m thankful to the New York Cosmos and Gio [Savarese] for giving me that chance and to the NASL. The fact that U.S. Soccer would make a decision about dropping Division 2 status for the NASL, costing players hundreds of jobs, to me and I’m sure other people in the NASL, it’s the exact opposite of what I think they should be doing. I think it’s important the NASL stays Division 2 and U.S. Soccer gets behind the NASL to try to help the league grow.”

Cosmos players already faced the league’s demise in the off-season before Commisso came in at the final hour. Still, that experience doesn’t make the current uncertainty any easier to push aside. Cosmos Coach Giovanni Savarese says the situation is impossible to ignore given pervasiveness of social media, but that the team remains focused on its job on the field.

“I think this league provides an important part of development in US Soccer,” Savarese said. “I think there’s a tier of players that have been able to play in this league, earn a good salary, and be able to support their families. I believe that it has a purpose. I believe that this league has allowed other leagues to grow as well by competition. For the players’ sake, for the club that has such a tradition like the New York Cosmos, I would like to see it continue. What is gonna happen is not in our hands. We have to do our job. We’re soccer people, but I would like to see my players have a job next year, because they have families. They depend on this.”

The NASL has had its fair share of well-documented struggles. Players and staff on Rayo OKC and the Fort Lauderdale Strikers finished the 2016 season without being paid their full salaries. There is no excusing the mistakes that allowed situations like that to arise in the NASL. By and large, though, NASL players have found steady paychecks, as well as higher salaries compared to what they would be offered in the United Soccer League.

Dissolving the NASL would suddenly leave hundreds of players searching for a new home. MLS hasn’t shown much interest in tapping NASL talent and the USL can’t take on all of those unemployed players. Some would inevitably fall through the cracks.

“You’d have a lot of guys out of a job,” Cosmos captain Carlos Mendes stated. “It’s been an important league for a lot of young talent. You have guys from all over the world that are playing at a high level, making a good living. I’ve made a good living. This is my fifth season with the club now. For sure it’d be a shame if something like that happens and the NASL doesn’t continue on. It’d be tough to see.”

This season was meant to be a new beginning for the NASL as it pledged to expand more cautiously and vet prospective ownership groups more vigorously. Now, after only coming back from the brink in January, it faces extinction again for failing to satisfy all the Division 2 standards, while the USL was given a month to resolve its shortcomings.

“We’ve been hearing good things at the NASL with more teams coming into the league. It takes time for a league to grow,” Szetela said. “When Rocco bought the Cosmos, his agreement with the Cosmos was for the Cosmos to have Division 2 status. He’s a guy that’s willing to fight for us and help soccer grow in this country. We just need time and hopefully decisions will be made that we can continue as Division 2 and help soccer grow in this country, not just for the NASL, but for the national team.”

Andres Florés, who has captained the Salvadoran national team while playing for the Cosmos over the past three years, is hopeful that the door the NASL has opened for so many players remains open.

“I think that the job opportunity that the NASL gives us is very important for players that try to reach a good level,” Flores said. “That’s why I’ve been going to the national team since I’ve been here. I’ve kept a good level and the coaches have seen that it’s worth it to call players from here. That’s why I’ve been called. It has offered me a lot of opportunities, great experiences. It should continue like that. We shouldn’t close the door to job opportunities like the league is giving us.”