As a friendly reminder that there are only 12 days left to register for the Cosmos Copa NYC 2013 adult amateur soccer tournament (see the rules here, and the application here), we bring you the 12 Days of Cosmos Copa NYC 2012…
As a friendly reminder that there are only 12 days left to register for the Cosmos Copa NYC 2013 adult amateur soccer tournament (see the rules here, and the application here), we bring you the 12 Days of Cosmos Copa NYC 2012…
I went to the theater last night…for a soccer rally. Major League Soccer (MLS) presented an overview of its plan for building a 25,000-seat soccer specific stadium in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, located near Citi Field in the New York City Borough of Queens. The event was held at the Queens Theatre, which is in the very same park, a mere Baggio penalty kick from the proposed stadium site.
Host of Univision’s Republica Deportiva and author of The World Cup: The Ultimate Guide to the Greatest Sports Spectacle in the World Fernando Fiore was the emcee for the event, which dragged on for two hours as no fewer than 16 speakers voiced their support for the stadium – all of which was then translated, either English to Spanish or vice versa. The speakers ranged from local politicians and other civic leaders to heads of unions and local business associations. And, ultimately, that’s what this rally was about, fueling support in the local community.
MLS commissioner Don Garber was the first to speak, calling himself a “Queens guy” as he recounted his childhood there. He quickly dove into a dual-screen presentation, with one side in English and the other in Spanish. But it offered very little beyond what we’ve already reported in considerable detail.
In a nutshell, the league wants to build a 25,000-seat soccer-specific stadium that can be expanded to 35,000 seats without increasing its footprint. And that footprint will take up 10-13 acres centered on the Fountain of Planets, which sounds like a lovely spot but it’s actually a 6.5-acre cement pond that seems to have no other current use to park visitors than as a giant trash receptacle. The stadium will consume only two acres of grass land, and every square inch of park land it consumes will be replaced with park land elsewhere in the borough.
Again, the league refused to specify where that replacement park land might be found. And from the remarks of the local politicians, this is one of the biggest sticking points. They said that they would hold the league to their commitment, which will be guaranteed contractually at the federal, state, and local levels, to provide replacement park land that is “accessible and usable.”
The importance of this issue cannot be understated, because it’s the focal point for much of the opposition, many of whom seem to struggle with the concept of “every square inch of park land consumed by the stadium will be replaced with accessible and usable park land elsewhere in the borough.” If the league can identify suitable replacement park land that is both accessible and usable to the residents who currently use Flushing Meadows Corona Park, that should alleviate the concerns of most, especially the politicians.
The other sticky issue is parking. The league is counting on the majority of stadium visitors to take public transportation, as the New York City Subway and Long Island Railroad both have stations nearby – and both are already structured to accommodate large crowds. But in the event that visitors do drive, the league is looking to add to the parking currently available under the Van Wyck Expressway. They are also in negotiations with the Wilpons, who own nearby Citi Field, with the hope of using some of the baseball stadium’s existing lots as well.
The Sales Pitch
Though largely lacking in new information, Garber’s sales pitch did have a few new angles. Clearly, from the format of the meeting and its collateral to everything done by its MLStoQueens advocacy group, the league is counting on the support of the Hispanic community as well as the other ethnic groups in Queens, the most diverse borough in the city – and perhaps in the country. He said that we are living in a new America – one that looks, feels, and speaks differently – and that soccer is something that connects us all. He want on to say that, for MLS to achieve its goal of becoming one of the top leagues in the world by 2022, it would need a team in the largest and most important city in the world: New York City (and those still questioning the wisdom of putting the 20th franchise in New York should read our earlier story).
In his presentation, Garber also talked about improvements the league would make to the park. MLS plans to invest “tens of millions of dollars” to improve Flushing Meadows Corona Park. This will include improvements to beautify the landscape, increase park access, repair the fountains (which haven’t worked since 1964), and ensure flood prevention. The mantra is to preserve the park experience and sacrifice absolutely no grass land. No new roads will be built. In fact, with the MLS plan, the park would actually end up with more grass land available to the public than currently exists in the park.
MLS would also completely renovate the existing soccer fields in the park, which are in desperate need of repair. This will be done before the stadium construction even begins, and in stages so that the local youth and adult leagues can do their best to schedule around the closures to minimize any interruption in play.
We reported earlier about the stadium’s positive impact on the job front. Construction would create 2,100 union jobs. Once operational, the facility will have more than 150 full-time and more than 700 part-time employees, most of which will likely be drawn from neighboring communities.
But the only real news was regarding the long-term impact of the stadium on the local economy. The 25 soccer games along with approximately 15 other events held annually at the stadium (which are expected to include high school sports games) will generate an estimated $60 million in economic activity each year. And the operation should produce more than $50 million in tax revenue over the next 30 years.
The audience was overwhelmingly friendly, filled with youth soccer teams, supporters clubs, and unionized labor – all of whom stand to gain something from the deal. Two New York Cosmos supporters groups – the Borough Boys, whose president, Nick Laveglia, was one of the guest speakers, and La Banda del Cosmos – had the most vocal presence. And that could be troubling news for the New York Cosmos, who announced on Saturday that they may not have aspirations to join MLS. The Borough Boys were founded with the mission of bringing an MLS franchise to New York City and had thrown their support behind the Cosmos after the team announced that it’s mission was to join MLS.
There were also a handful of dissenters who showed up, but this was not really a forum for open debate as much as a pep rally for the cause. The questions were screened and rather soft, though a few with meat – namely who would own the stadium and where would the replacement park land be located – were met with well-rehearsed talking points that did everything but answer the question.
It was interesting to hear a handful of local politicians provide what amounted to conditional support, saying they liked the plan but still had questions – the kind of questions that weren’t being answered, at least not at this time. Assuming the league can satisfactorily address their concerns, namely replacement park land and parking, then MLS will likely proceed to the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP).
ULURP is a series of hearings, most involving public input, with Community Boards, the Borough President, the Planning Commission, and finally the City Council. Typically it’s an eight-month process (but that can vary greatly) and the project can get terminated at any point along the way.
After this comes the environmental review, including the Environmental Assessment Statement, which also involves a public hearing. Only after successfully negotiating that can the project proceed to the finish line, which is construction followed by a projected opening in time for the 2016 MLS season (assuming the league isn’t on the international calendar by then).
The Big Mystery
The plan sounds good, but the questions of who will ultimately pay for the privately financed stadium and who will buy that 20th franchise to play there remain a mystery. The league has long said that they are paying for it. But the question remains, will they continue to own it or would they add the expected price tag of $300 million to the expected $100 million cost of the 20th franchise? And exactly who is going to pay $400 million to play in a stadium in which they had no input in designing (for example, most stadiums feature seats in the team colors)? Unless, of course, the league already has an ownership group lined up, providing input on the design and location – and possibly even paying the cost of construction with the league acting as the middle man?
These questions were not answered at the rally, and probably won’t be anytime soon. But three things were made clear: 1) MLS is very serious about making this happen; 2) the league has the backing of many local political, community, business, and labor leaders; and 3) when saying that the project was near the “finish line” during his annual State of the League conference call two weeks ago, Don Garber was likely speaking in the Churchillian sense – as in “the end of the of the beginning.” However you spin it, this is good news for New York City soccer fans.
I was listening to the 2012 State of the League conference call last week, in which Major League Soccer (MLS) Commissioner Don Garber was discussing the role that supporters clubs have played in transforming the league into the blossoming entity it is today. Garber mentioned how soccer-specific stadiums came about because the league recognized the need for a place that these fans could call home, not merely visit for a 90-minute event. He talked about the activism of supporters clubs, giving back to their local communities, which helps strengthen both the team’s and the league’s ties to their host cities. He even cited the Sons of Ben, for contributing to the design of the Philadelphia Union’s PPL Park.
And that’s around the time I received an email inviting me to have a look at a trailer for a documentary about the Sons of Ben, the Philadelphia Union’s supporters club. Serendipity? Or very well-timed marketing?
Either way, this film looks fantastic (see the trailer below). It’s called The Sons of Ben Movie (though I think Shaka Zolos would have been a better title), and is scheduled to be released in 2013.
I was somewhat familiar with the Sons of Ben story because they were the first supporters club created before the actual team, successfully lobbying the league and city officials to award Philadelphia a franchise. I’ve been a close observer of the Borough Boys, who were founded 10 months to the day after the Sons of Ben and have taken a similar approach, lobbying for an MLS franchise here in New York City.
Thirteen months after the Sons of Ben began their campaign, the city of Philadelphia was awarded the 16th MLS franchise. Two years after that, in 2010, they were on-hand to christen the new PPL Park in Chester, Pa., where the Philadelphia Union played their first home game.
But, like their namesake, Benjamin Franklin, there’s more to the Sons of Ben than meets the eye. For example, when the Union chose to build the stadium in Chester, an infamously sketchy suburb of Philadelphia, many were alarmed. Chester is an impoverished community, struggling with crime, drugs, and unemployment. But rather than throw a tantrum, as many Old World supporters groups might, the Sons of Ben decided to do something about it – something positive. Through their own philanthropic initiatives, they set out to help transform Chester into the kind of place you’d want to go visit for a soccer game. And that tells you a lot about who these folks are.
The Sons of Ben Movie is their story, from the beginning. And in some ways, it’s the story of MLS, and American soccer in general. For the love of the game, and the passion of countless unrecognized individuals, we are where we are today – despite the odds having been against us for so long.
Of course, in many ways, it’s still an uphill battle. And no one knows that better than someone trying to make a soccer documentary. The folks behind The Sons of Ben Movie are trying to raise additional funds to finish the project and get it in theaters, or at least at the festivals. So if you’d like to see the movie, I encourage you to make whatever donation you can to support it. Just as in real life, if the fans take action, good things will happen!
The New York Cosmos held a Q&A session with their supporters clubs on Saturday, Dec. 1. The affair was held on the second floor of Jack Demsey’s pub, which was packed with more than 100 members of the Borough Boys as well as members of La Banda del Cosmos and other soccer fans interested in the team.
Organized by the Borough Boys, with the support of the Cosmos and Jack Demsey’s, this was the first public event for the Cosmos since their previous management team departed back in October 2011. And fans were eager for any news about the club, which had promised to take them to the very top of American – perhaps even world – soccer with a modest start in the North American Soccer League (NASL).
After a brief introduction from Borough Boys president Nick Laveglia, Cosmos COO Erik Stover stepped up to the microphone, which may very well have predated the original team. He began by introducing his staff, which has grown from three to seven since his appointment was announced last month, not including Singapore-based chairman Seamus O’Brien.
The former New York Red Bulls managing director quickly won over the crowd with his straight-talking, down-to-earth approach. He echoed his earlier pledge that the Cosmos 3.0 would be a “proper soccer club.” He told supporters that the focus was on the product on the pitch and the experience in the stands. It wasn’t about making the Cosmos the most popular soccer brand, producing a sexy fashion line, or even signing big-name players. They just want to deliver a good team and a fun time. And this style over substance attitude seemed to resonate with the crowd.
Stover offered a few specifics in regard to the club’s 5-7 year plan for reaching the top of US soccer. On the academy front, they will take an agnostic approach, meaning that – unlike the previous management team, which adopted BW Gottschee, one of the city’s best youth soccer programs – the Cosmos will work with all of the top youth soccer programs in the city to identify and develop talent.
It’s a smart approach in that most youth soccer programs in New York City, even one as successful as BW Gottschee, have a limited geographical reach. So partnering with a single program means that you are leaving a lot of potential talent on the table. However, at some point the Cosmos will need to base their academy somewhere, and since they don’t even have permission to train their first team anywhere – including at Hofstra University, where they will play their games – there’s still plenty of work to be done on this front.
Speaking of Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium, Stover noted that they are working to find a way around the university’s ban on the sale of alcohol at games. One possible solution is that the club would set-up a tent where season ticket holders could enjoy complimentary food and beverages, absorbing the cost as part of the ticket price. He also noted that tailgating was allowed on campus, and suggested the club might actively support that as well.
Vinnie Connors, the manager of Jack Demsey’s, took a moment to offer the pub’s services on those two fronts. He went on to congratulate and thank the Borough Boys, an organization he has watched blossom over the years. Demsey’s and the Borough Boys also announced that they will be running buses from the pub to Shuart Stadium for home games, which was welcome news since getting there by public transportation is a real challenge.
Cosmos legend Shep Messing was also on hand and stepped up to the microphone for the evening’s most emotionally charged moment. Messing reflected on the fact that 40 years ago he attended a supporters meeting for the original team. In contrast to the crowd at Dempsey’s, which had people lining the stairs, he said that they only had 20 people and gathered at a Burger King near Hofstra. Clearly he was moved by the passion and numbers that filled Jack Demsey’s for the kickoff of the new Cosmos. Both he and Stover went on to buy the crowd a round of drinks before departing.
So what’s not to love? Well, Stover also had to deliver some bad news as well. And to his credit, he didn’t bury it in a press release distributed late on a Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend.
Confirming the much-feared rumor, he announced that the Cosmos wouldn’t be ready in time to start the 2013 NASL season. Instead, the team would join the league for the second half of the split season, the clausura, in July or August. Technically they’d still be eligible to compete for the league championship, which pits the apetura (first half) winners against the clausura winners in the Soccer Bowl. But they apparently wouldn’t be eligible for the US Open Cup.
This news is not sitting well with fans, who have called it an embarrassment and a disgrace. It’s caused some to make comparisons to the Cosmos previous management team, and even to the New York Red Bulls management. And decorum prevents me from sharing what non-Cosmos fans have been saying about this.
The reason Stover offered for the delay was that the club simply didn’t have time to accomplish all they needed to do – from putting together a respectable team to finding a vendor to print the tickets – and all they want to do – from securing a world-class shirt sponsor to helping the league land a TV deal – before the start of the season. And though the NASL is expected to announce its schedule next week, it’s assumed the season will start in less than four months.
Some wondered why the Cosmos didn’t simply start the season as a grassroots side. If they can’t get proper jerseys made in time, which was one of the excuses cited (and debated), then why not wear the Umbro Cosmos jerseys, or have a local company like FOSA make something for them in the short-term?
Whether out of shock, abject disappointment, or respect for Stover, the crowd took the news mostly with silence. Stover went on to promise a series of events to maintain fan interest until the team joined the league in July or August of 2013. There was even talk of some friendlies, with Galatasaray being mentioned, but that only fueled the comparisons to the previous management team, which fielded a team for the Scholes testimonial at Old Trafford but could only muster a few PDL friendlies for the fans here in New York City.
And that’s surely what stuck in the sides of Cosmos supporters most of all. They were happy to hear talk of a “proper club.” But instead of starting the season on time, like a proper club, they’re getting promised fun events and friendlies. And while citing a lack of staff as one of the reasons the club won’t be ready, Stover announced that they have hired a team historian. Not to mention the fact that newly appointed coach Gio Savarese wasn’t able to join Stover at the event because he was off working as a commentator for ESPN instead of focusing entirely on putting a team together. Understandably, all of this left many of the fans were wondering what the Cosmos priorities really are.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t even the most troubling news to come out of the event. When pressed about the club’s long-term intentions regarding Major League Soccer (MLS) and the league’s proposed stadium in Queens, Stover admitted that the Cosmos may not be destined for an MLS franchise. While fans will surely learn to live with the delayed start to the season, the realization that the Cosmos don’t necessarily see MLS as the path to the top of the US soccer pyramid is only just starting to sink in.
Stover reiterated the Cosmos intention to play soccer at the highest levels, and stated that it is part of the club’s 5-7 year plan to reach the top of US soccer. But if they are not entirely sold on entering MLS, which is what he indicated, then that must mean they believe there is another way of achieving those objectives without being a part of America’s top soccer league.
It’s a scenario I first touched on back in July. Given that the strengths of Seamus O’Brien and Sela Sport are the kinds of things (like TV deals and major sponsorships) traditionally handled by the league in MLS, as opposed to by the individual franchises, might they be interested in trying to elevate the NASL to top-tier status? After all, the NASL doesn’t have restrictions on player salaries and clubs appear to be free to negotiate their own deals with sponsors, making it far more like traditional leagues overseas than MLS currently is. Or perhaps the alternative would be to develop a truly global league of elite teams?
The notion was not popular at the time, and the management team’s unwillingness to fully embrace MLS was dismissed as simple posturing for a more advantageous contract with the league. After all, the first public statement issued by the new management team back in November 2011 made it clear that their intent was to enter MLS: “It is unequivocally the goal of the current ownership to become an MLS team in the most expedient manner possible, and decisions for the club will be made with this in mind.”
Stover’s suggestion that the Cosmos may not pursue an MLS franchise raises the question of how they hope to achieve their lofty goals outside of MLS. Add to that his assertion that the Cosmos hope to negotiate a television deal that will benefit all of NASL, and it sounds a lot more like they are looking to elevate the NASL rather than simply playing hardball with MLS. Besides, it’s hard to play hardball with MLS when you’ve just announced that you aren’t going to be able to field a team in time for NASL.
It will be interesting to see what MLS has to say on Tuesday, Dec. 1, when the league will unveil its plans for the Queens stadium to the public. MLS commissioner Don Garber has repeatedly said that there are a number of groups interested in the 20th franchise in New York City. Most Cosmos fans thought that such claims were simply the league’s posturing to gain a better deal from the Cosmos. But now?
The one thing that was clear to all who attended the Q&A is that Stover is the real deal, genuinely committed to building an entertaining soccer club that fans can be proud of. And you got the sense that he wanted to field a team for the start of the season as much as anyone. Whether or not his efforts get mired by these other issues remains to be seen.
Start dates aside, the biggest concern may be what’s in store for the Cosmos in 2014 and beyond. And before anyone heads too far in any direction, both MLS and the New York Cosmos would be wise to listen to the fans.
The Borough Boys started five years ago with the sole purpose of bringing top-flight soccer to New York City. When the Cosmos stood up in 2010 and said they wanted to be that team, and in MLS, the fans – lead by the Borough Boys – stood up and supported them.
Given that Garber has admitted that everywhere he goes, anywhere in the world, people ask him about the Cosmos, it’s hard to believe that MLS would not select the Cosmos as its 20th franchise in New York City. And given that the fans in New York City want a top-level team playing in the city, it’s hard to believe that the Cosmos would opt to become a Long Island club looking to elevate an entire league in an effort to reach the top-tier of American soccer on their own terms.
With the departure of David Beckham, MLS could use a world-renowned name like the New York Cosmos. As for the Cosmos, I believe their intentions are noble, but the best way to change the face of American soccer may very well be from within, as part of MLS.
For the sake of fans, I hope everyone can learn to play together. In the meantime, Cosmos fans are left doing what they’ve been doing for years now: patiently waiting, and hoping.
Last week I had the pleasure of attending America SCORES New York’s poetry SLAM! The annual competition determines which West Harlem boys and girls get to compete in the America SCORES national poetry SLAM!
While the local affair doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of the national final, there’s always plenty of talented kids – and some fairly awesome judges. But before I get into that, let me first tell you a little bit about this organization, and why we’re talking about poetry SLAMs in a soccer blog.
America SCORES: Poetic Soccer
While there are a number of youth development programs that leverage soccer, America SCORES is unique in that it features poetry as a tool for fostering creative expression and a sense of self, along with the academic value of introducing the kids to this often hard to embrace literary art form. The boys and girls learn about soccer, form recreational teams, and play every other day. And when they are not playing, they explore poetry.
It may seem like on odd pairing at first, but that same sense of creative expression and individualism translates well to the game of soccer, as anyone who has watched some of the world’s greats can tell you. In fact, many argue that this sort of artistic expression on the field is what American soccer is lacking most.
But the real unifying element in the America SCORES program is teamwork. The kids are encouraged to create and perform their own poetry, on and off the pitch, but they also work on a team poem as well. These individual poems, along with the team performances, are what make up the annual America SCORES poetry SLAM!
Poetry is part of the fall curriculum at America SCORES. In the spring, the kids learn about community service. With teamwork once again featuring as a theme, each team embarks on a project that teaches them about their community – and how they can help make a difference in it. This is culminated with the annual America SCORES SHOUT Day of Action.
America SCORES NY’s Poetry SLAM!
Sixty-five elementary school children from PS 192 and PS 325 in West Harlem participated in this year’s competition. Ten girls and nine boys mustered the courage to perform their own poems and all four teams – PS 192 Girls Lucky Stars, PS 192 Boys Fire Titans, PS 325 Girls Soccer Sisters, and PS 325 Boys Grass Kickers – performed their team poems.
Mike Geddes, former BBC commentator and current head of North American partnership development for StreetFootballWorld, served as the guest emcee. The celebrity judges included Starbucks district manager Carrie Teeter, Kicking + Screening Film Festival co-founder Rachel Markus, grassroots soccer writer Cesar Diaz, and US international and New York Red Bulls forward Kenny Cooper.
Many of the poems were insightful, amusing, and inspirational. As one often finds when working with kids, several of them displayed wisdom beyond their years. In the end, four girls – Chazity L., Emely S., Ahmaade G., and Evelyn S. – and four boys – Ahmaad G., Jorge C., Jay J., and Bryan G. – were selected as winners of the individual competition. And they will represent America SCORES New York at the National Poetry SLAM! at the Apollo Theater on April 8, 2013.
If you’d like to see the kids practicing some of their poems, you can catch a glimpse here – and read some of their work as well. If you would like to support this wonderful program, you can learn more here. And many thanks to the sponsors: Ernst & Young, adidas, Starbucks, Up2Us, and Thomson Reuters!
Fun Fact: America SCORES New York poet-athletes get 10 times as much exercise as other kids their age.
Fun Fact: America SCORES New York poet-athletes engaged in more than 60 hours of poetry workshops this fall, improving their creative writing skills as well as their attitude towards school and learning.
Fun Fact: America SCORES New York poet-athletes enjoyed more than 60 hours of additional physical activity this fall by playing soccer!