The New York Cosmos are back.
...To playing football, that is. When it comes to the consciousness of American soccer and how the rest of the world has experienced its evolution, they never really went away.
It's been 27 years since the Cosmos last played a competitive match, but their iconic jerseys still carry kudos in any football bar, in any part of the world. Long before David Beckham touched down in Los Angeles, the fabled Cosmos conquered New York and for a while made football the coolest sport in America.
Pele, Carlos Alberto, Franz Beckenbauer, Giorgio Chinaglia and Johan Neeskens all donned the shirt during the club's halcyon period, in the late 1970s and early '80s, and they arrived in football's frontier land as world-renowned talents ready to put on a show. Set that against the heady backdrop of Manhattan nightlife, and you've got a potent recipe for myth-making.
Reads the Cosmos' official website: "The New York Cosmos was a legendary team of rock-and-roll era bad boys, soccer legends, and champions that played and partied together until 1985."
It's a legacy without equal in U.S. soccer. And one so enduring it was always going to give birth to a reincarnation—just as soon as the club's ownership rights were cleared up and the right investors stepped forward with a realistic vision.
That time has arrived, but the Cosmos' second coming is not quite as we might have expected it—nor is it as grandiose as their initial relaunch in 2010 hinted it might be. They won't be leaping straight into the MLS with a host of big-name stars but have instead opted to join the second-tier NASL division for the 2013 season.
Reads a statement from Cosmos chairman Seamus O'Brien:
The Cosmos have a celebrated history with the NASL and with its rebirth in recent years, our entry was the natural first step of our return. We look forward to playing the competitive and entertaining style of soccer that you will expect from us as we take on some of our biggest traditional rivals like the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers and Tampa Bay Rowdies. Our ultimate goal is to play at the very highest level and we feel today's announcement is the first step in that direction.
On the surface, it appears the Cosmos are playing the long game. They've cut out the financial risk associated with buying into the MLS and are allowing themselves to grow organically over time. It's an approach that fits well with their counterculture brand, and it can expect to be greeted with large and sympathetic crowds in New York next season.
Those fans will almost certainly be going to the 13,000-capacity stadium at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York—the very same Long Island venue the Cosmos occupied in the early part of the 1970s.
Quite the sell for the footballing romantics of the New York area. America's most famous soccer team, reborn and re-imagined, ready to begin its evolution all over again in the league in which it wrote its legend and in a stadium that witnessed its beginnings.
Moreover, the Cosmos can do so without the financial restrictions and marketing regulations they would have encountered by entering the MLS—not to mention without having to pay the speculated buy-in fee of $100 million (h/t ESPN.com).
"Simply put, in NASL we have the freedom to do whatever we need to in a way we would not have in MLS," O'Brien told ESPN.com's Roger Bennett. "Our goal is to own our own brand, media rights and player contracts."
"We realized we would be better off as owners by investing that $100 million capital in our own brand and owning it," Bennett said.
It's a fair point, and one that may well be realized with some notable signings for the 2013 season. While we can't expect the game's best to drop down to NASL standards, the pull of playing for the Cosmos—coupled with the appeal of living in New York—is still likely to draw a few household names.
From there, who knows? Whatever happens the Cosmos will be a story worth following. Pele will be involved, and as of now, the Cosmos still have Eric Cantona listed as their director of football and Shep Messing as an international ambassador.
Maybe the Cosmos have the answer.