Empire XI: Questions for New York Soccer in 2016

NYCFC RBNY Cosmos

by CHRISTIAN ARAOS

A new year begs new questions … and since my Empire XI piece from last year actually had some lasting relevance, I might as well try it again!

Here are 11 questions to ponder heading into 2016:

1. Do the Cosmos move on from Elmont?

The New York Cosmos were up front about how a 25,000-seat, privately-funded stadium in Elmont would not only serve as a solution to the attendance problems it faces while playing at Hofstra University, but also how it will fund the team’s ambitious plans.

After years of stagnation, the Empire State Development Corporation asked the Cosmos in November to resubmit their plans excluding an eight-acre parcel previously included in the original request for proposals. That parcel is now being eyed by Off Track Betting as a site for a long-coveted video lottery terminal casino on Long Island.

While the Cosmos did resubmit their plans, they are not getting the vocal local support among residents needed to convince government officials that the stadium is what’s best for the community. A Newsday editorial in December went so far as to side with critics of the stadium who doubt the stadium’s economic benefits.

COO Erik Stover has stated that the team has other sites in mind should this bid fail and the Cosmos remain committed to playing some games at MCU Park in Brooklyn. This year, we will see if those flirtations, coupled with the increasing unlikelihood of their stadium plans coming to fruition, will drive the Cosmos to look elsewhere.

2. Can NYCFC find more than just commercial success?

The historic inaugural season of New York City FC at least convinced observers that an MLS team playing inside New York City can successfully draw audiences and find space in a crowded New York sports market.

They also lost half of their matches and finished eighth in the Eastern Conference. A slew of failed signings, conflicting interests within the front office, and replacing a likable and sympathized head coach in Jason Kreis is fair cause for skepticism about the team’s personnel dealings.

NYCFC, like the Cosmos, are also struggling to find traction in its search for a stadium. Although last year showed that Yankee Stadium can host soccer and baseball concurrently, no one involved with the team wants to make the stadium their permanent home.

While NYCFC will again do well in gate receipts and jersey sales, a 2016 with either improvements on the field or a site to commit to as a future venue can answer some concerns about the team’s long term future.

3. How can the Red Bulls reach MLS Cup?

In three years, the New York Red Bulls have won Supporters’ Shield twice and made the Eastern Conference Final in consecutive seasons. Their shift towards developing young talent returned exciting dividends in centerback Matt Miazga (he gets his own question later on) and more talent is on the way.

Head Coach Jesse Marsch has the Red Bulls playing in an attacking yet disciplined manner which has excited a once jaded fanbase. Sporting Director Ali Curtis continues to stress that he is not done implementing his plans for the organization, but already, he has converted many skeptics after one season.

Early success, while exciting, also leads to increased expectations. And for the Red Bulls, that involves getting to MLS Cup in 2016.

The Red Bulls will likely be in the playoffs again and have proven to be very capable in defeating lesser teams while in it, but what will it take for them to beat a fellow contender? Can the Red Bulls’ new homegrown signings and promotions from NYRB II provide the depth and talent needed? Or will Curtis have to break from the plan and bring in an expensive talisman?

4. Will anyone else involved in American soccer become embroiled in the Department of Justice’s investigation?

The federal investigation into corruption within FIFA and CONCACAF alleged that officials in several national federations took bribes for the broadcasting rights of their national team’s World Cup Qualifiers. The latest batch of arrests in December include officials from the Panamanian, Guatemalan, El Salvadorian and Honduran federations. However, only one person involved in American soccer has so far been implicated.

It was Aaron Davidson’s work as President of Traffic Sports USA that landed him in the feds’ crosshairs and his arrest drew heavy scrutiny towards the NASL where he was chairman of its board of directors. So far, only the NASL and Traffic Sports have been mentioned in the unsealed indictments prompting some to claim conspiracy, going so far as to suggest Congress hold hearings. Others speculate about how informed or potentially involved officials in US Soccer or MLS are in this scandal.

While we can expect prominent figures in American soccer to be called as witnesses in forthcoming trials, whether someone gets implicated is another matter altogether.

5. Does Sky Blue FC get the support it needs?

I can’t ask this question without first admitting my own shortcomings in following women’s soccer. In short, if I have the time to keep up to date with the men’s teams in the area, I can make equal time for the women’s teams. That comes as a soccer follower and a member of the media.

Capital NY reporter Howard Megdal is spot on in pointing out that while 2015 was a momentous year for women’s sports; it should not have taken a convergence of extraordinary accomplishments to point out how those sports are mostly forgotten by fans and the influential media. That was noticed last year with Sky Blue FC’s struggles.

While the Red Bulls and NYCFC had no problems drawing fans and media attention, Sky Blue FC continues to struggle drawing fans to its games at Rutgers University. Mainstream media attention has been fleeting and neither MLS team has developed a strong relationship with Sky Blue FC at a time when partnerships between MLS and NWSL teams are becoming the norm in markets less vital than New York.

6. Will the US Women’s National Team reach a collective bargaining agreement with US Soccer?

The US Women’s National Team’s World Cup victory was already a noteworthy event in 2015, but its subsequent Victory Tour came to show that success does not guarantee respect — especially if you are a woman.

Despite their popularity, national team members boycotted a match in Hawaii citing concerns over a turf field that was not inspected by US Soccer until the week of the match. While US Soccer admitted its faults, an oversight as glaring as failing to make an advance field inspection goes to vindicate the players’ claims of unequal treatment for the World Champions in comparison to members of the US Men’s National Team.

With the Olympics set to take place in Rio de Janeiro this summer, the USWNT (should they qualify) are set to be central to NBC’s efforts in marketing their coverage. Like the World Cups in each of the past two years, matches will kickoff in very favorable times for American audiences. That can lend itself to continued progress in the team’s following but not necessarily in its compensation or treatment from US Soccer.

US Soccer and the USWNT have been conducting business under a memorandum of understanding since 2012 but the players have leverage and a legal representative in Rich Nichols willing to fight for their causes of more equal compensation and conditions in comparison to members of the USMNT.

7. Does Patrick Vieira live up to the hype?

New NYCFC head coach Patrick Vieira comes to New York with the full backing of the City Football Group. Vieira is especially well-regarded by board member Brian Marwood, who is involved in Manchester City’s academy and in NYCFC. Together, Vieira and Marwood built the Manchester City Academy and turned the Elite Development Squad into a source of talent for clubs inside and outside the CFG network.

This will be Vieira’s first time leading a first team but he had previously interviewed with two Premier League clubs and was even discussed as a replacement to Arsene Wenger at Arsenal. His playing career with Arsenal, Manchester City and others is exceptional.

However he is leading a team with a sieve-like defense and no wide playmakers. It will take a number of smart pickups to turn NYCFC into a playoff team. Even then, it will take a manager capable of handling the unique logistical challenges of teams in MLS to reach the playoffs.

8. Is this Matt Miazga’s last year with the Red Bulls?

Matt Miazga is attracting the interest of several clubs in England and Europe and his contract is set to expire at the end of this year. Along with his emergence as MLS’ most promising defensive prospect, he holds a Polish passport making him that much more attractive to clubs overseas.

Miazga is reportedly very interested in playing overseas and has rejected a contract offer from the Red Bulls. Whether or not he moves this month remains to be seen, but if he is committed to leaving the Red Bulls at the end of his contract, this is the last chance for the team to cash in. If a deal is reached, it may be mutually beneficial to delay Miazga’s arrival date in a scenario similar to DeAndre Yedlin’s move to Tottenham Hotspur.

All parties have a vested interest in ending this before it turns into a saga. The Red Bulls will try their best to persuade their young defender but they can only do so for a short time.

9. Do the Cosmos keep pursuing veteran, European players?

The Cosmos ended their interest in Georgios Samaras due to the player’s back issues. Combined with the retirements of Raul and Marcos Senna, the Cosmos are without any of the prominent veteran players that drove fan interest in either iteration of the club.

The Cosmos have always celebrated signing veterans from overseas. Now that tenet to the club’s identity comes in conflict with the reality of the environment the team faces.

Limited attendance has forced Stover to admit that the club has had to reconsider its budget for signings. An increasingly competitive NASL means that it will not be as easy for players in their thirties to play in as it was when Raul and Senna joined. Lastly and most troubling, MLS is an increasingly attractive option for Europeans of all ages meaning that the Cosmos may find themselves needing to overpay in order to bring in the players that can improve its performance on the field and at the gate.

10. What will be MLS’ expansion plan?

MLS will announce its plan to expand to 28 teams this year. Before it does that, it has to decide who will be its 24th team. Miami has long been eyed as a market and David Beckham’s efforts to bring a team have been revitalized in the past month. Meanwhile, the Sacramento Republic continue to trumpet its success on and off field and has received assurances of MLS’ interest from Commissioner Don Garber during the run up to MLS Cup.

A decision on Team 24 and a timeline for the next four teams will come this year. Early interest is coming from Cincinnati, St. Louis, San Antonio et al.

11. Can Jurgen Klinsmann turn things around with the US Men’s National Team?

The US Men’s National Team finished fourth in last year’s Gold Cup, lost the CONCACAF Cup and its U23s failed to directly qualify for this year’s Olympics.

2016 will bring a decisive Olympic Games playoff for its Under 23 National Team against Colombia, the Copa America and the final four matches of the Semifinal Round of World Cup Qualifying. For head coach and technical director Jurgen Klinsmann, each of those events are significant in assessing his efforts in both roles.

Wins will quiet critics and give fans reasons to party. Losses mean all bets on his future are off.

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  • Anonymous

    About #2

    There’s no guarantee that NYCFC will keep up their numbers once the novelty wears off. Especially with a lot of losses and mismanagement. Seattle held their numbers, the Metrostars did not

    And the Cosmos may be in trouble

  • johnson

    agree, cosmos are in trouble, you can’t make it with 4000 fans on average playing in a minor league that loses to USL teams in this market – already with 2 MLS teams present…

    • Anonymous

      “in a minor league that loses to USL teams”

      Hahaha **** off troll

    • Anthony

      What USL team have the cosmos ever lost too??

  • EPL fan

    Once the novelty wears off, NYCFC will be the 1999 Metrostars.

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  • MTF

    My predictions for 2016:

    1. Red Bulls will continue to roll along with their average attendance of 18,000. 2015, the first year of the five year plan, was a surprise even to management with a Supporters’ Shield win and almost an MLS Cup Final berth. I predict the youth movement will be accelerated with the cost being little shot at a repeat of the Shield and no Cup appearance. I see the Red Bulls getting out of group play in the Champions League and a first U.S. Open Cup victory.

    2. NYCFC will have a sophomore slump. Better performance but just miss out on the playoffs. The novelty will have worn off and average attendance will be closer to 20,000 than 30,000. Viera will struggle with coaching in MLS. Pirlo will announce his retirement at the end of the season and Villa will find his way back in Spain’s international picture.

    3. Cosmos will not make a big name signing and will keep a tight lid on expenses. They will not win the Belmont bid and will look to work with the Brooklyn Borough President to find a permanent home. Attendance will average no better than 3,500 and they will announce a move to MCU Park in Brooklyn for 2017. Emirates will announce early that their $1 million annual shirt sponsorship will not be renewed after 2018 when the current contract expires.

  • johnson

    just stating facts – the cosmos do play in a minor league that loses to USL teams (7 games in a row in fact) – do you have some facts to disprove this?

  • Anthony

    Arabs is the most transparent fucking hack on EoS. Glosses over the failures of NYCFC and total clown show they were in 2015 and raises “concerns” about the two other teams that actually won trophies. You are a blatant NYCFC homer and your opinion means nothing.

  • ted dev

    I don’t know if the cosmos have lost to a USL team but I do know as fact that the teams in their league have lost 7 games in a row to USL teams –
    that is pretty bad to say the least and shows USL is a better league, no wonder San Antonio left to join USL…

    • Dr. FREUD

      Do you really hate yourself that much, Larry?

      One other thing we know is that NYCFC has never beaten another NY area team regardless of what league the opponent plays in.

  • Roberto

    I am a cosmos fan dating back to late 70’s early 80’s.
    This version of the cosmos is similar to early 70s. No stadium, no interest. The big difference is the sport is years ahead of where the cosmos want/need to be.
    MLS should have been their focus. While I’m not a fan of NYCFC, there is big time interest there. Why? Big city, major league.
    Someone do the name and colors justice. Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Jose all with soccer roots in the NASL, in the 70s & 80s ( at least in name). They figured out the MLS is where to go and there fans agree.