By JACK BELL
Ryan Richter knew nothing but victory after joining the New York Cosmos at the end of September.
The defender appeared in the club’s final six regular-season games and then scored the winning penalty kick in the North American Soccer League’s title game as the Cosmos swept to their second-straight title, defeating Indy Eleven at Belson Stadium on the campus of St. John’s University.
After the game, Richter, 28, was effusive and thankful in the postgame news conference because his two-year contract with the Cosmos (the team he faced in the NASL final in 2016 when he played for the Ottawa Fury) rescued him from the long bus rides he endured during his short stay with Bethlehem Steel of the USL.
But then … the Cosmos released their players and office staff, the league nearly ceased operation even before Richter and his teammates had time to bask in the glow of their accomplishment.
“After final the guys on the team had a better idea, a feeling that something was not going the way they were used to,” he said. “But it was new to me. I was pretty calm, I had talked to a couple of teams in MLS and I wasn’t worried that I wouldn’t have a team. I just didn’t want to move again. I had just moved to New York. Things didn’t work out with MLS, which was disappointing.
“Gio [Coach Giovanni Savarese] was so good during the process. Whenever I called him or Luke [technical director Luke Sassano] they were totally honest with me and kept me updated on what was going on with the club. It all worked out the best way it could have, and I’m happy it did.”
Having signed a two-year deal with the Cosmos, Richter, technically, was never released by the club. But Savarese and Sassano told him that the Cosmos would not stand in the way if he was able to make a deal to go elsewhere. Then U.S. Soccer gave the NASL a lifeline when it allowed the league, which had shrunk to only eight teams, to maintain its Division 2 status. Then the cable TV entrepreneur Rocco Commisso stepped forward to rescue the club at the 11th hour.
“Through the whole process, I was speaking with Gio and Luke from the first day,” Richter said. “They were very transparent. They said ‘We’ll give you the answer, we’re going to tell you the truth.’ That’s something that every player wants. For me that’s important, all I want is someone who will be honest with me.”
As Savarese and club officials labored to reconstitute the team’s roster, Richter said he drew strength from Commisso’s commitment to the club manifested in a move to MCU Park in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn, a new TV deal with MSG Networks and a marketing program that placed advertisements in the New York City subway system.
But all those positives seemed to melt away in 90 minutes when the Cosmos opened the NASL regular season with a deflating 3-0 loss at home against Miami FC in which Richter scored a goal … for the other team.
“We got outplayed, and personally, I didn’t play well,” Richter said. “It was a really hard game for me thinking about the goals I allowed.”
Both he and the club had the chance to instantly bounce back the next week in a quick return match in Florida, coming away with a 2-0 victory on April 8.
“We were able to get a little revenge,” he said. “And to be a part of a goal after the prior week when I felt I let the team down, it was a huge turnaround. In the first game, they had our number all over the field. We did it together. We worked all week to fix things. It was a team result.”
After being idle during Easter week when only four NASL teams were in action, the Cosmos (1-1-1, 4 points) return to MCU Park on Saturday night to face the league’s early and unlikely unbeaten first-place team, the Jacksonville Armada (2-0-1, 7 points).
“I think it’s a really important game for us,” Richter said. “I don’t think them being in first place matters because it is very early in the season, but it does show that they are in a good moment and have a quality side. I’m excited for this game because we had a great hard week or training and are in a much better place as a team than we were a few weeks ago.”
Or a few months ago.