Stover talks Cosmos Spring season, U.S. Open Cup, looks ahead to the Fall — and beyond

IMAGE, DAVE MARTINEZ FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

IMAGE, DAVE MARTINEZ FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

EOS had a chance to speak with New York Cosmos Chief Operating Officer Erik Stover to discuss the state of the team ahead of the Fall Championship season. In this second of our two part series, Stover addresses the Spring season, the split schedule format, the heartbreaking U.S. Open Cup ouster and the view from ownership.
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It has been an eventful start of the 2014 NASL Championship campaign for the New York Cosmos.

The “Spring Sprint” forced all NASL sides to try and achieve near-perfection on course to the nine-game season title. The Cosmos almost pulled that off. New York finished second, earning six wins, two losses and a single draw in the condensed competition while allowing a miniscule three goals through nine matches.

That wasn’t good enough to take the title.

“I think you saw the limitation the nine game season gives you,” Chief Operating Officer Erik Stover tells EOS. “You drop a point and it makes it very hard to make it up in a short season.

“We only let up three goals in a nine games. If we continue playing like that for the rest of 2014, we will be in the final in November, which is where we hope to be.”

While admitting that the tournament breakdown was “awkward” and “not ideal,” Stover also defended the league’s decision to maintain integrity and balance in deference to the World Cup.

It did, however, present the Cosmos with some unique issues. Scheduled for a break in action from June 8th to July 12th, the team had only a short window to prepare for the coming season. While most teams around the world would be lining up friendlies and camps in order to maintain fitness, the Cosmos were, instead, focusing on the U.S. Open Cup, making any semblance of a break null and void.

“We had two important Open Cup games and we were scheduling around advancing further,” Stover explains. “We looked at some friendlies but our first priority of course is the league, and 1A is scheduling around Open Cup. All options presented to us interfered with Open Cup and possible advancement. That, and with scheduling issues at Hofstra, we decided there wasn’t really anything that made sense to us.”

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

U.S. OPEN CUP

The tournament brought both triumph and heartbreak for the club. Their dramatic win against the New York Red Bulls was tempered by a controversial loss to the Philadelphia Union — one that is still fresh in the Cosmos’ mind.

“There is still a bad taste in everybody’s mouth,” Stover admits. “It was a disappointing day and we thought we deserved better than that. These things happen in sport and we have to focus on the Fall season.”

The club spoke to NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson in the aftermath to address the questionable calls of referee Ismael Elfath. Pursuing more would be “in the league’s hands.”

Nevertheless, the Cosmos waited a long time for that Open Cup opportunity, and managed to show their mettle — even in defeat. Can that translate to more public interest in the NASL side? Perhaps more season ticket sales?

“It’s going to be hard to tell,” Stover admits. “It’s never a direct cause and effect over one game. You can’t have that big of an impact.”

The tangible result, he says, was in the changing of public perception. “I think we proved to some naysayers that we play good soccer, we are a good side,” he explains. “[Red Bulls] put out a strong side. They were missing starters. We were missing four as well. I think it was a pretty fair comparison putting two teams on one field together. We proved we have a good side and are a team worth following.

“Having said that, this is only one game and this is a difficult market. People forget things like that rather quickly, but for us internally, it validated everything we tried to accomplish. Even in Philadelphia, with a lot going against us, with injuries, with JoJo [Joseph Nani] getting knocked out and having some unfortunate calls against us, we were still in it the entire time. We could have gotten a win.”

Despite his rather practical view on the club’s accomplishment, Stover did reveal that season tickets “had gone up bit.”

“The nice thing about having two seasons is we can do a lot of mini-plans and ultimately effect your FSE (Full Season Equivalent) count. It is going in the right direction. Not a huge increase from Spring to Fall, but everyone understands we are in for a long journey,” he explains. “There is no one game that will change the way things are done with us.”

IMAGE, NYCOSMOS.COM

IMAGE, NYCOSMOS.COM

THE FALL ROSTER

On the field, the club will look much as they did this Spring. They extended contracts on players Roversio, Hunter Gorskie, Stefan Dimitrov and David Diosa while cutting only one familiar but underused player — Peri Marosevic. “We feel very confident in our roster,” says Stover. “We are always working I making the club better and [Head Coach and Technical Director] Gio [Savarese] is certainly working on that right now.”

The team is currently looking at some trialists in camp to help bolster their numbers as well. They are also set to welcome Seattle Sounders’ loanee Jimmy Ockford to continue his stay.

“The loan was for 2014 and I think [Seattle] have to be happy with the way Jimmy has progressed and grown, the performance he has had with us, the experience he has gotten,” Stover says.

As for making that deal permanent, the COO leaves all options on the table. “We will have to wait to see how the season unfolds, and certainly, the player has a say in that as well.”

IMAGE, NEW YORK COSMOS FACEBOOK

IMAGE, NEW YORK COSMOS FACEBOOK

LOOKING AHEAD …

With the Spring season behind them, and the U.S. Open Cup a memory, the Cosmos are looking ahead. As we reported yesterday, work is already underway in forming an Academy system and the team is actively seeking land for a complete training complex.

Things haven’t always been perfect, but a year into their adventure through the professional ranks, New York continue to have high hopes for their growth — with the support of ownership backing their every move.

“Ownership is very supportive,” Stover said. “I was with [Cosmos Chairman] Seamus [O’Brien] and board members at the match in Philadelphia, and one of the comments that resonated with me from a board member was ‘you guys are right. The quality of play between these two leagues is roughly comparable.’ If we are about building the New York Cosmos about where they were in the 70’s, this league is a very good place to start.

“We feel the gap is very small or nonexistent so that we can continue to grow and do so in a pragmatic way.”