“So I guess they aren’t going to be the next franchise in MLS, huh?”
It’s a natural reaction, of course. After all, the ambitious plan is counter to nearly everything that Major League Soccer’s “MLS to Queens” initiative has to offer. In fact, it seemingly challenges the very essence of the proposal.
The land in Elmont is already zoned for sporting events. Queens is not. The State has actively sought suitors for the redevelopment of this forgotten stretch of prime real estate. Queens has not. Yes, both stadium projects would be privately funded, but the Cosmos ownership would put their own cash into it – not the leagues. There are no replacement land issues, little to no political blow back by the local community, no persuading of local political groups; Elmont wants the land redeveloped while MLS is still working on convincing the city, state and local leaders that their initiative is the right one to consider.
Seems like a recipe for conflict if there ever was one.
If that is the case, then why are neither party worked up over the issue?
The answer is simple; though competing in nature, the projects are actually complimentary. Don’t be fooled by the hype; these ambitious dealings are not mutually exclusive. In fact, both sides have everything to gain in the success of their counterpart.
During yesterday’s SiriusXM broadcast of Counter Attack Radio, MLS Commissioner Don Garber joined Tony Meola and John Harkes in studio to discuss, in part, the breaking news of the Cosmos Stadium proposal. Garber admitted to being in meetings all day in Indianapolis for the MLS Draft and wasn’t quite up to speed with the specifics behind the deal.
Nevertheless, he hardly seemed perturbed by the development.
“We have long been advocates and very consistent to say that anything that is good for the sport of soccer is going to be good for Major League Soccer,” he said. “I encourage them to continue their quest and I hope they are successful in that.”
If he would have stopped there, the discussion would surely end. After all, as the league’s lead ambassador, Garber is expected to take the high road on these types of issues.
The thing is, he didn’t stop there. What followed provides perhaps the biggest hint behind what can potentially be a more ambitious project than meets the eye.
“Our focus in New York is really about the market opportunity,” Garber elaborated. “I mean certainly, the Cosmos wouldn’t be looking to get approvals to invest lots of money and they are playing in the second division in the minor leagues in America.”
And there it is. It’s hard to argue with Garber’s point. A 25,000 seat arena for an NASL club? That should be your first red flag. A supposed minor league franchise investing $400 million to not only build a stadium but to virtually raise a community around it is preposterous.
The Cosmos’ intentions are as obvious as their investment. Clearly, there is money behind the Cosmos ownership structure. For most, the idea MLS proposes to potential investors about avoiding the dirty political legwork to secure and build a stadium while paying a $100 million buy in fee to operate is enticing in and of itself.
In the case of the Cosmos, not so much.
What Elmont would provide is proper ownership of their stadium, unchained, along with retail opportunities in a prime developmental area that will create residual income during and after the soccer season. MLS in Queens offers a partnership. If you have the money and are willing to spend it, why not do it yourself?
The Cosmos ambitions are bigger than their proclamations lead you to believe, but their voices have shrunk down to size since the departure of Paul Kemsley and his collection of carnival barkers. In fact, the parsing of words has become almost comical in its delivery.
In a recent chat with Cosmos COO Erik Stover, he did his best River Dance impression, tap dancing around the club’s desire to join MLS. “I don’t think we can categorize our interest in MLS in anyway right now,” he told EoS. “We are completely focused on the NASL and being successful in that arena.
“We are 100% focused on launching a club and being successful in the NASL. Where it takes us in the future we are not sure.”
Clear as day, right? Not really. The follow up tells you why. “As we said, our goal is to be at the very top of the pyramid in this country.” The very top? Isn’t that MLS? This mantra, repeated ad-nauseum by the clubs executives in recent months, will always leave the door open for the possibility.
When you connect all the dots, it becomes a bit clearer; this is a high stakes game of poker where two invested parties could come out big winners. With all the hurdles MLS has to go through to make MLS in Queens happen, the Cosmos are offering a viable alternative to consider. Don’t think that recent comments from the Mets offering a shared field option or Brooklyn President Marty Markowitz‘s statement openly imploring MLS to join them in the Kings borough are just friendly gestures. If anything, they are a kind warning shot from embedded and interested parties gently nudging the league and saying “this won’t be as easy a move as you anticipate.” Why else would the baseball team come out with such an alternative if not to feed the detractors of the Queens project? The Mets won’t be too pleased with yet another sporting venue in the area, especially one that can potentially drain their recent and successful jaunt into the soccer market through international friendlies and the like.
One can argue the Cosmos are taking the same position. Opponents to the Flushing project will undoubtedly point to the Elmont proposal and say “Look, a soccer stadium is being proposed already! Why does Flushing need one too?” The fact that it’s technically set within the Nassau boundaries, under the NASL umbrella and economically irrelevant to revenues in Queens will make that argument moot.
Yes, Garber and company have presented a strong plan, supported by great political capital. Nevertheless, if the league’s initiative collapses (and anyone who follows construction in the Tri-State area knows it can happen in an instant), the Cosmos group provides a safety net. If MLS succeeds, the league will be able to further saturate a market they believe can thrive with multiple franchises.
In other words, it’s a win, win.
“We are a long way from having three stadiums,” Garber admitted. However, that doesn’t mean he won’t support the idea.
“There is a big market there,” he continued. “Lots and lots of people, lots of diversity, and we believe if we are able to be successful with our 20th team there, then we will be able to create the energy that exists in these inner city rivalries that drive a lot of the success and passion in football in many important cities around the world like London, Barcelona, Madrid, Rio and things like that.”
Please note: London (6), Madrid (4), Rio (4) and Barcelona (2) all have multiple professional teams in their respective areas.
Will the Cosmos be the 20th franchise? That is up in the air. Still, it is quite clear; both sides continue their flirtations from afar, understanding their remains a mutual interest to make something work. The only thing they won’t do is say so publicly. The possibility is enticing, especially in light of the NASL-born infusion of support that has overtaken Cascadia. After all, that is the fever Garber and many American soccer supporters hope catches on in the East Coast.
It just makes sense.
Money has a way of creating strange bedfellows in the most unexpected situations. Even when the narrative suggests conflict, both parties know they could do something quite special when unified. MLS has always wanted to hold the Cosmos brand under their umbrella. The Cosmos need MLS to complete their desire to reach the top. So instead of warring propositions, a gentle dance ensues as a common dream of a Cascadia-like revival in the East Coast soccer scene dances in the minds of both parties.
Whether the Cosmos are the 20th franchise or not, one thing remains clear; neither party is shutting the door of possibility on the other.