Rocco’s Ramblings: Cosmos’ New Owner Speaks Out

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By JACK BELL

Rocco Commisso is to be lauded for stepping in to save the New York Cosmos and probably the North American Soccer League, at least for another year.

But the native of Italy, the soccer star at Columbia (where the soccer stadium is named for him) and the media mogul through his company Mediacom seems to have let the euphoria get the best of him in comments leading up to the Cosmos’ home opener at MCU Park in Brooklyn last Saturday.

His ramblings may encourage fans, but he’s raised eyebrows and left some people shaking their heads. Here we go again.

It is fair to say that his recent comments are at best ill-advised. It is these delusions of candor — that the Cosmos, not Minnesota United should be in Major League Soccer this year after winning a second straight title in the NASL; that the United States is a failed soccer country because it has not won the World Cup; that if he wants to watch soccer he will tune into European games — are needlessly provocative and are about to jump off the wall.

In an area with three professional soccer teams, two buttoned down MLS outfits and the Cosmos, Commisso’s comments barely caused a small ripple. If making waves was the intention it mostly flopped. But …

Just last week Commisso spoke with Charlie Stillitano on “The Football Show” on SiriusXM satellite radio using words that sounded like they were lifted from a movie script. He said:

“If anyone tries to screw with my team, my reputation, my players, what I’m trying to accomplish, I’m gonna hit back. And I hope the people that run American soccer understand that.” 

Commisso recently purchased a majority stake in a club that plays in the second tier of the game in the U.S. He knew, or should have known what he was buying — an iconic team with a brand more popular outside the U.S. than in the U.S. playing in a league shrunken to eight teams. His recent comment to Brian Straus of SI.com seemed to only reinforce the notion that people labeled Eurosnobs will never accept the game in America:

“I haven’t been to an MLS or NASL game at all. Largely because I’m one of those that understands who the best players in the world are, who the best leagues in the world are. When I want to watch a real soccer game, I wouldn’t go to watch New York City [FC]. I’ll watch Juventus. I’ll watch the Italian league. I’ll watch the Spanish league.”

And when it comes to the pie-in-the sky notion of promotion/relegation in North America, Commisso picked up the banner that was waved by Bill Peterson, the former commissioner of the NASL, who reveled in talking about the topic and who supported a possible antitrust lawsuit against U.S. Soccer, a gambit that fell by the wayside last year.

“Did anyone see the Minnesota game where they lost [6-1]?This is exactly what I’m talking about. Because they paid $100 million with another $150 million for the stadium, Minnesota got to the MLS, right? Well, the Cosmos won the championship. In other countries, all over Europe, South America, so on, the Cosmos should be moving up to the MLS, not Minneapolis. I think Minneapolis was the eighth-ranked team in the NASL last year, out of 12. We were No. 1.”

He also has cracked open the history books to point out that the U.S. advanced to the semifinals of the first World Cup, in 1930, but has had a mediocre record since, save for an appearance in the quarterfinals in 2002. What seems to be lost on Commisso is that only eight countries (Argentina, Brazil, England, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Uruguay) have won World Cups. For the U.S., it’s no crime. We’ve sucked. We don’t anymore. Now we’re like everyone else. Trying to win a World Cup.

“Everybody’s bragging about what a great job we’re all doing with American soccer. No, we’re not doing a great job.
 
“Here we are, 80 years later, and we still haven’t had a team, a professional team, a professional, national team that could go out and say ‘We’re the top 10, the top five.’ I mean, what kind of crap is that? To date, we have not had a national team that I’m proud of.”
Finally, he addressed the Holy Grail — a stadium for the Cosmos.
“I’m not asking for money right now; I’m not even asking for a stadium. But there’s got to be a discussion of what the future of soccer is in the center of the world.
“I’m from the Bronx. My kids grew up in New Jersey. My team is in Brooklyn. I’m local, local, local. That’s the message I want to send out.”
 Hey, at least Commisso isn’t sending out Twitter blasts in the wee hours of the morning — at least not yet.
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