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INTRO: New York is getting a second team in Major League Soccer. Reports say that New York City FC — short for football club — will join the New York Red Bulls in the league in 2016. The new team is backed by one of the biggest names in European soccer. But Max Rosenthal reports that the news has some New York fans wondering if a famous name in American soccer is being forgotten.
NARR: For decades, there was no bigger name in American soccer than the New York Cosmos.
(Fade up AMBI from 1976 game “At forward, number 10, Pele” Fade under at applause.)
The Cosmos brought the Brazilian and other world legends to play in the North American Soccer League. The team sold out 76,000-seat Giants Stadium. And now the team is back. In August, the Cosmos start playing in the top minor league in the country. It’s soccer’s version of Triple A baseball. And the team’s history is still so powerful, it attracts fans who weren’t even born the last time the Cosmos played.
ACT: Lucas Vasquez, I’m from Long Island. Carlos Mieles, I’m from New Jersey.
Vasquez and Mieles are freshmen at NYU. Their families are from South America, and they grew up cheering for teams from Argentina and Ecuador.
But they don’t watch MLS. Vasquez and Mieles never connected with the New York Red Bulls, who have played in the league for nearly twenty years. Vasquez says the Cosmos history is a powerful draw.
VASQUEZ: What the Cosmos can bring to the table is they already an identity within New York. Not some foreign company or owner that wants to promote their selves or their own brand. This is an identity that took root within New York and already has its roots their and has people remember that. So this is really a New York based club.
Compare that to the Red Bulls, who play in New Jersey and are owned by the energy drink company of the same name. Vasquez and Mieles are so excited about the Cosmos that they’ve organized a Latin American-style fan group called La Banda del Cosmos. They say they’ve already got about 50 regular members, and they’re expecting big things, both from the group and the team itself.
VASQUEZ: I can see Cosmos really playing in the one of the highest levels, signing players from all over the world and acting like a European club.
For years, MLS wanted to put a second team in the New York area. And when the Cosmos reformed in 2010, many fans thought the team was the obvious choice. Vasquez admits he’s disappointed the Cosmos won’t be in MLS. But he thinks that could change.
VASQUEZ: I think what the Cosmos can do right now is show the league that this is an opportunity they can’t miss.
But that may just be wishful thinking. Mark Noonan was an executive vice president at MLS. Now he runs a sports marketing company in Connecticut. He says it was the stars that made the old Cosmos great. Without those big-name players, the new Cosmos can’t live up to the team’s history.
NOONAN: Now it’s just a name. It’s a name that thirty years later still has recognition amongst the, I would say, hardcore soccer aficionados in this country and perhaps outside of this country. But most kids under the age of 20 don’t have a clue. So trying to recapture what it was is impossible.
BELL: I think it’s like, thirty years later, seeing a woman you went out with in high school. You’re going to be disappointed.
That’s Jack Bell. He runs the soccer blog at the New York Times, and he covered the Cosmos in their glory days. He agrees that the Cosmos name is the new team’s biggest asset. And the team’s biggest moneymaker is the merchandise, like jerseys, that they sell worldwide. For that reason, MLS probably isn’t the best fit.
BELL: You know, the structure’s a little bit different. If they went into MLS, they wouldn’t own their own marketing rights, and that’s a big deal to them right now. It’s weird, it’s kind of the merchandise before the team.
So instead of the Cosmos, MLS is reportedly turning to a European powerhouse.
(Fade up Aguero goal ambi to full at “Aguero…he can win it…Oh! He’s won the title, surely, for Manchester City!” then fade out)
Last year, Manchester City won the English Premier League, the most popular soccer league in the world. Their owner, Sheikh Mansour, is an Abu Dhabi royal. He’s pumped billions into Manchester City over the past five years. And according to published reports, he’ll be the money man behind New York City FC. It’s chance for MLS to bring in not only a big name and big money, but also a big fan base that doesn’t ordinarily watch American soccer.
(Ambi from bar underneath)
The Mad Hatter Saloon is the official hangout of New York’s Manchester City fans. On Tuesday afternoon, a few of them gathered to watch their team’s latest Premier League game. Right now, MLS isn’t high on their agenda.
Frank Desanto is a native New Yorker. He says he never saw the Red Bulls as a New York team.
DESANTO: They play in Jersey. So it’s like, I’m a city kid. I want a team that plays in New York.
Michael Warren is coming from slightly farther away. He’s originally from Manchester, and he’s been a City fan his entire life.
WARREN: Well, longer than you’ve been alive. Over 50 years.
He comes in from Connecticut nearly every weekend to watch Manchester City, but he rarely watches MLS games. That is set to change.
WARREN: It’ll be nice to have a City-connected team playing in the States, absolutely. I was talking to a couple of friends at the weekend and we said that we would probably go to see most of the games.
It’s proof of the drawing power that that Manchester City brand can bring to MLS. But Jack Bell of the New York Times says the new team’s management can’t assume that the brand will do all of the work by itself.
BELL: They seem to think that they’re in Europe. And they’re not, and they still need to sell this team. If they think they can do the same things that they do in the Premier League, I think they’re going to be sorely disappointed.
MLS is expected to formally announce the new team within two weeks. But whatever happens, New York City FC won’t start play until 2016. It will take that long to sort out issues around a proposed new stadium for the team in Queens.
Max Rosenthal, Columbia Radio News.