How The Cosmos Came To Choose Belson For The NASL Final

Belson Stadium

by DAVE MARTINEZ

While fans of the North American Soccer League and the New York Cosmos learned about the team’s plans to host a final at Belson Stadium three days ago, the venue has been in place for well over a month.

But even after weeks to prepare themselves for the announcement, no one is happy about the situation. Not the Cosmos. Not the league. Not the fans.

No one.

So how did New York end up settling on the 2,600 seat Belson Stadium? Well, that is a complicated story — one that begins before the season even started.

As it goes, NASL teams are required to submit blackout and open dates well before the start of any campaign. That includes dates for regular season games and potential playoff matches.

In their due diligence, the Cosmos approached Hofstra about potential dates. Hofstra promptly told the Cosmos before the start of the season that Shuart Stadium would not be available for the dates requested. That put New York on a year-long search for a venue — a search that eventually ended in Jamaica, Queens.

Initially, the biggest issue the Cosmos faced was securing a facility on the chance that they would make the final. Unlike past seasons, getting to the final was no foregone conclusion. For starters, they lost star players like Marcos Senna and Raul. At the same time, the Cosmos front office enacted major budget cuts for the season which prohibited New York to pursue the kinds of talents they acquired in years past.

In short, there was no guarantee of a Final appearance, so securing a venue months in advance was both potentially costly (cancellation fees) and unrealistic.

That’s not to say they didn’t try. New York explored several options in the months that followed, including venues like Mitchel Field, MCU Park, Fordham’s Coffey Field and Columbia University’s Rocco Commisso Stadium.

Some locations were not available due to other events. In other cases, there were extenuating circumstances limiting their choices.

MCU Park is a prime example. The home of the Cyclones is still the leading venue to host Cosmos home matches next season, making it an ideal location for the Final. Players raved about the turf last year, with several Cosmos members, including the aforementioned Raul and Senna, telling EoS that the field played better than their home park at Shuart.

However, the optics were not right for the Final — a sentiment shared by both the club and the league. MCU Park’s artificial surface is adorned with an irreplaceable baseball diamond. The only solution to cover it up would be to a) hire expensive labor and material to lay down and cure sod on the field, or b) invest thousands in labor and transport for the Nexxfield turf — used by Rayo OKC in their home stadium.

With no guarantee that either would take, venues like MCU or similar parks with permanent sporting lines were eschewed.

Another popular option would have been Red Bull Arena. However, there is no indication that the Cosmos ever reached out to Red Bull for the potential site — a decision likely driven by the optics of renting an MLS arena for the NASL final.

The Cosmos then explored the idea of hosting the match in a neutral venue. Those talks were quickly quelled in deference to the club’s sporting side. As Cosmos COO Erik Stover has said since, it would do the club a disservice to play away after the players and staff worked so hard to get to the final.

Selling the hosting rights to the final was brought up, but not pursued. As one source explained, it puts the club at a competitive disadvantage. As an example, the most ideal location for an NASL final is Indy Eleven’s Carroll Stadium. Few, if any, NASL venues match the environment and fanfare of The Mike.

However, that location would never be ideal for New York. The Mike has been a nightmare for the Cosmos, who have never achieved a victory at Indy in over two seasons of play.

In short, a sale to a playoff competitor would put the team in a massive hole — an undesirable outcome after such a successful season. Likewise, a neutral location, like WakeMed Park, would lessen the home support the Cosmos so rightfully earned.

Options were dwindling and the Cosmos needed answers. As EoS reported weeks ago, the club tried to circle with Hofstra again, going so far as to suggest weekday dates for the Final. The university, however, would not budge.

Once the turf issues, scheduling conflicts, and baseball and football lines cleared, there remained one option standing: Belson Stadium.

While Belson isn’t the ideal setting for any professional final, it does help the Cosmos. The 2,600 seat stadium holds the potential for a rather raucous and intimate environment, pitting the potential 300+ Indy Eleven traveling fans against the Cosmos’ casuals and hardcore supporters. Add to that equation New York’s dwindling attendance numbers and the allure of playing within New York City proper, and Belson just fit.

But that is about as positive as it gets.

For better or worse, this will be the destiny of the 2016 NASL Championship match.

That is, if Rayo OKC doesn’t have something to say about it.