New York Cosmos to Join NASL in 2013

In the most significant step to date toward their ultimate goal of joining the U.S. top flight, the revived New York Cosmos franchise announced on Thursday that they will join the North American Soccer League for the 2013 season.

The NASL, which adopted its name from the league the original Cosmos played in from 1971 to ’85, is the current home of second-division soccer in the U.S.  The league consists of eight teams, including reborn versions of old NASL sides, and Cosmos rivals, the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Ft. Lauderdale Strikers. The Cosmos, who have no players at the moment, will be the NASL’s ninth team.

The team will reportedly begin play at Long Island’s Hofstra University, where the original Cosmos played in 1972 and ’73.

“We are delighted to return to our historic home with the NASL and bring the New York Cosmos back to the playing field,” said Cosmos chairman Seamus O’Brien. “We are committed to running the franchise with the highest possible standards on and off the field, and look forward to putting together a competitive and entertaining team our fans can be proud of.”

The nascent franchise sees the move as a first step to rebuilding the Cosmos brand and reaching its goal “to play ultimately at the highest level and be the No. 1 side in North America,” according to O’Brien.

Major League Soccer recently undertook an examination of Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens as a possible site for a stadium that would house the league’s 20th franchise.

The Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers, and Vancouver Whitecaps have all recently made the jump from U.S. second-division soccer to MLS.

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NASL’s Atlanta Silverbacks Hire Eric Wynalda as Interim Coach

He has long pined for a head-coaching job in Major League Soccer, and now former U.S. national team leading scorer Eric Wynalda has the next best thing. The Atlanta Silverbacks of the second-division NASL have named Wynalda interim coach and team advisor.

The decision comes just weeks after Wynalda coached amateur side Cal FC to a surprising berth in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup, leading the team to wins over the third-division professional side Wilmington Hammerheads and the top-flight Portland Timbers along the way.

“I’m absolutely thrilled for this opportunity with the Silverbacks. It was truly one that I didn’t want to pass up,” said Wynalda, 43, and still second on the USMNT’s alltime goals list with 34. “This is a case of an under-performing team, and I’m honored that the club chose me to take on the challenge of turning things around and helping the Silverbacks fulfill their potential on the field.”

“Eric is very well respected and he’s someone who has tremendous knowledge of the game through his career as a player, coach, and TV broadcaster,” said Silverbacks General Manager Andy Smith. “Through our conversations with him, it’s clear how much he studies the game, and we’re convinced he has the leadership qualities to turn this team around.”

There is one unusual hitch in the deal: even though Wynalda will take the reins of the last-place Silverbacks (1-5-8) immediately, he will not relinquish his role as a broadcaster for FOX Soccer.

Keep an eye on how that plays out as the English Premier League resumes in August and the Silverbacks hit the stretch run of the NASL season.

Lionel Messi Is Making the Great Pelé Nervous, and A Little Desperate

Global icon and almost unanimously recognized Greatest Player of All Time Pelé has made some slightly defensive comments recently regarding Argentine superstar Lionel Messi’s place in the soccer pantheon. But now he’s ratcheting up the player-hater quotient by several notches.

After Messi scored a hat-trick against Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League in early March, the following comments from the legendary Brazilian came to light:

“When Messi has scored 1,283 goals and won three World Cups, then we will talk.

“People always ask me: ‘When is the new Pelé going to be born?’ Never. My father and mother closed down the factory.”

Now that Messi has racked up 61 goals for the season, including an incredible 24 in his last 13 games, the Old Master is at it again, only now his comments have veered from slightly defensive (yet justifiable) to desperate and hypocritical. At an event celebrating the centennial of his former club Santos, Pelé dropped the following pseudo-science (complete with a third-person flourish):

“There’s always this Maradona comparison, saying that he’s better than Pelé. Now some are saying that Messi is better than Pelé. Well, he has to be better than Neymar first, which he isn’t yet. He has more experience.”

The irony and hypocrisy of this statement lie in the fact that it embodies the very thing Pelé was criticizing in his remarks at the top: It’s too early to say that Messi is better than Pelé. Messi is only 24 and he has a lot of soccer ahead of him, and probably two more opportunities to shore up the “World Cup” portion of his résumé. If and when he does that, then, as Pelé put it, “we will talk.”

If that holds true for Messi vs Pele, then it goes double for Neymar—who’s only 20 and has never played in Europe or in a World Cup—vs Messi. Pelé knows that. But not only does he choose to ignore it, he also reverses the comparison, and the players’ standings, by saying Messi isn’t better than Neymar “yet.” As if Messi were the unproven, striving youngster and Neymar the one with 18 trophies and nearly 250 goals.

The comment is so off-base it’s actually made us feel a little sorry for the old (if ageless) guy. He’s starting to hurt his own cause now, and that’s unfortunate, because he does have a point, at least regarding his own legacy.

So here, let’s help him make it:

We enjoyed that double nutmeg at 2:51.

Giorgio Chinaglia: 1947–2012

Former Lazio, Italy, and New York Cosmos star Giorgio Chinaglia died yesterday, succumbing to complications following a heart attack. He was 65.

A burly, skillful striker, Chinaglia is the North American Soccer League’s alltime leading scorer, with 242 goals in 254 regular-season and playoff appearances for the Cosmos.

He played alongside Pelé, Franz Beckenbauer, and Carlos Alberto in New York, among many other stars, and may have outshined them all. The Cosmos won four NASL titles in Chinaglia’s nine years with the team, capturing the trophy in 1977, ’78, ’80 and ’82. The pinnacle of his U.S. career came in 1980, when he scored 32 goals in the regular season and an incredible 18 in seven playoff games to lead the Cosmos to the championship.

Got 15 minutes? Here are all 50 of Chinaglia’s goals from 1980, including seven in one game against the Tulsa Roughnecks (see the 10:45 mark):

Gotta love that sign-off. “You got 50 for the year, George. How do you top that?” “Not bad, not bad. We’ll try again next year.”

We also enjoyed Cosmos announcer Jim Karvellas—who died in 2007—and his call on Chinaglia’s penalties: “He winds…fires…goal!”

H/T to the Striker Liker.

How Cool Is This?

Our pal George at Howler Magazine tipped us to this terrific piece of soccer art by Steve Welsh, a Middlesborough-based artist, fan, and proprietor of the site miniboro.com.

Welsh just published a new project (go see it right here), which, in addition to the piece above, titled Johan Cruyff—My Turn, includes striking tributes to Mario Balotelli, Brian Laudrup, Leo Messi, Carlos Valderrama, and Bobby Charlton, among others. (We were partial to the Charlton “combover” and the “El Pibe.”)

Of the Cruyff-turn piece, Welsh says the following:

“A tribute to Dutch Master, Johan Cruyff. Basically I wanted to play with the idea of ownership regarding the Cruyff Turn, hence the copyright symbol. But I also wanted to show it in all its glory, especially as its original entrance to World Football was a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ 9-second affair.”

Here are the nine seconds he’s talking about:

The Cruyff Turn, as it came to be called, had never been seen before that moment. Now it’s a dribbling maneuver taught at the U8 level—and just one reason Cruyff is in the game’s pantheon.

You can buy Welsh’s creation as a framed art print or a stretched canvas. (It’d make a killer T-shirt too, but so far not available in that format.)

UPDATE: It is available in T-Shirt form. Right here. H/t to Abraham Thinkin’.

The State of U.S. Division 2 Soccer

Division 2 soccer went into limbo in the United States following the conclusion of the 2010 season.

That season had been made possible—after months of feuding between the NASL and the USL—by an 11th-hour provisional sanctioning from the United States Soccer Federation, good for one year only.

The league was called the USSF D-2 Pro League and it consisted of two six-team conferences. At the close of the season, two of its teams (Portland and Vancouver) made the jump to Major League Soccer, one (Rochester Rhinos) self-relegated to the third-tier USL Pro Division, two (Austin Aztex, AC St. Louis) folded, and one (Crystal Palace Baltimore) went on hiatus.

That left six teams twisting in the wind.

They eventually conscripted two more franchises (FC Edmonton and the Atlanta Silverbacks, who’d been on hiatus for several years) to form a reconstituted NASL, and put in a plea for Division 2 status.

Finally, on Feb 12, the eight-team league received D-2 sanctioning from the federation. Its season will kick off as planned on April 9.

That was the good news—we’ll get to the bad in a second—and here are the eight NASL teams:

Atlanta Silverbacks

Carolina Railhawks

FC Edmonton

Fort Lauderdale Strikers (formerly Miami FC)

Montreal Impact*

NSC Minnesota

FC Tampa Bay Rowdies

Puerto Rico Islanders

* Montreal will join MLS in 2012; its NASL replacement will be the San Antonio Scorpions.

Now the bad news: The league is in dire financial straits and the delayed sanctioning means that the five U.S.-based NASL clubs will not be allowed to participate in the U.S. Open Cup, the nation’s oldest tournament.

That’s a blow to league visibility and credibility as the USOC presents an opportunity to compete against MLS clubs in meaningful games, and it grants the tourney winner a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League.

NASL CEO Aaron Davidson acknowledged those missed opportunities while also suggesting that the exclusion could be a blessing in disguise: “Frankly, from our perspective—I don’t want this to come out the wrong way—but we need to focus on our league right now,” he told IndyWeek.com. “The U.S. Open Cup is a phenomenal tournament….But, at the end of the day, we all know we’d rather focus on this league this season.”

Cosmos Inching Closer to MLS?

Pelé's birth certificate says he's 70, but pictures tell a different story.

The New York Cosmos told the New Jersey Record yesterday that they’ve secured financing to build a stadium in New York City, with the goal of becoming the 20th MLS franchise in 2013.

“Our intent is to be the 20th team in MLS,” Cosmos director of soccer Terry Byrne told The Record. “We’ve had several meetings with Mr. Garber and progressed very positively.”

The Cosmos have also already set up two youth academies, one on each coast, that are being led by former MetroStarts Giovanni Savarese and Ted Chronopoulos. Three Cosmos youth players have been invited to join the U.S. Under-17 residency program in Bradenton, Fla.