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.

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.

Portland Timbers Sign First Four MLS Players

Picture the atmosphere at Qwest Field for Sounders FC games the past two seasons.

Stuff like this:

Now consider that MLS is adding two teams in the Pacific Northwest next year, in Portland and Vancouver, and that those teams have longstanding, heated rivalries with Sounders FC, dating all the way back to the NASL and continuing through all three franchises’ spells in the A-League/USL/USSF D-2, up to present-day U.S. Open Cup competition.

All three cities have had soccer at one professional level or another since the demise of the NASL, and now, Major League Soccer is installing them, a ready-made triumvirate of genuine rivals, in its Pacific Northwest sector.

Well played, MLS.

Yesterday, the Portland Timbers—who will be coached by former Rangers, Chelsea, Motherwell and Colorado Rapids striker John Spencer—announced their first four MLS signings. They are:

• First-ballot Name Hall of Famer Bright Dike, who was selected 12th overall, by Columbus, in last year’s MLS draft. After being released by the Crew, Dike latched on with Portland in the USSF D-2 league, scoring 10 goals in 23 appearances.

Steve Cronin, a 27-year-old keeper who did stints with San Jose, LA, and DC United in MLS. He was named Goalkeeper of the Year for the 2009 USL season.

• Twenty-seven-year-old midfielder Ryan Pore, a former All-America at the University of Tulsa who led all USSF D-2 scorers with 15 goals this season.

• USSF D-2 attacker Eddie Johnson (not to be confused with the U.S. international at Fulham), who finished second to Pore in the second division’s golden boot race, bagging 14 goals for the Austin Aztex in 2010.

The countdown clock is up at Portland’s website: 22 weeks till showtime.

Morning Grab-Bag: Quiz Answers, Quote of the Day, and the Bloody Bloody Galaxy-Union Highlights

We’ve got a three-part post to start off this morning.

First up, the answers to Tuesday’s NASL quiz. Thanks for playing. A few readers came up with several correct answers, and Prison Mike came verrrry close on one, but no one was able to ace all five.

Here they are:

1. Name the two players who played in both the NASL and Major League Soccer.

Hint: One is South African by birth who played for the USMNT, and the other is a recent coach of the Mexican national team.

A: Roy Wegerle, Hugo Sanchez.

2. Who was MVP of the final (1984) NASL season?

Hint: He went on to a legendary indoor-soccer career—as much as such thing is possible—with the New York Arrows, among other clubs. Also earned 14 caps for Yugoslavia.

A: Steve Zungul, who went on to score 372 goals in 145 games for the Arrows. Check him out here, and here.

3. Which team won the league in ’84?

Hint: They had a German striker with a wicked left foot, and were located in the Midwest, like the Columbus Crew, which has the same black-and-yellow color schem as this team did.

A: Chicago Sting. Their lethal striker was KarlHeinz Granitza.

4. Who is the NASL’s alltime leading scorer?

Hint: This one’s easy.

A: Giorgio Chinaglia, with an astonishing 193 goals in 213 appearances. He also scored 50 in 43 playoff games. The man’s play was as immense as his ego.

5. Which team suited up George Best, Teofilo Cubillas, and Gerd Muller, yet never won an NASL title?

Hint: They also featured former MLS coach and current Gol TV commentator Ray Hudson—and they might be coming back.

A: Ft. Lauderdale Strikers

QUOTE OF THE DAY (POSSIBLY THE YEAR):

From Reuters:

Michel D’Hooghe, Senior FIFA executive committee member and chairman of FIFA’s medical committee, on the rash of brutal tackling the game has seen in the past few years:

“I have made myself a compilation of hard tackles with dramatic consequences over the last two or three years in the most important competitions in the world. I do not dare to present it—it would take away your appetite. It is terrible. This must go out [of the game]. … This is my wish, that all that brutality that sometimes goes close to criminality on the field is thrown out in the interest of our players and of a nice soccer game.”

Los Angeles 1, Philadelphia 0

Beckham follows last week’s game-winning goal with a game-winning assist; Edson Buddle bags his league-leading 16 goal of the season; and Fred gets his melon split open by fellow Brazillian Juninho (not intentionally, we don’t think).

Also: A terrific backheel by MVP-worthy Sebastien Le Toux produces a save-of-the-week candidate from Donovan Ricketts.

Good game last night. Check it out:

It’s Friday: the next four days hold a full slate of MLS action, Euro 2012 qualifiers, and international friendlies—including two U.S. games. Buckle in.

New NASL Admits San Antonio Franchise, Provides Excuse for Us to Look Back at Old NASL

The North American Soccer League, a subset of the USSF Division-2 Pro League, announced this morning that it would add a franchise based in San Antonio, scheduled to begin play in 2012.

For more on the USSF D-2 Pro League and the current muddled state of Division II soccer in this country, see here and here.

The federation is running D-II for this season only, but has not yet approved a league to take its place for 2011. While we wait for that to happen, let’s look back at the old NASL, which ran from 1968 to ’84, hosted a surprising number of legends (Pelé, Cruyff, Best, Banks, Muller, Eusebio, the list goes on), and provided a full complement of only-in-America moments.

Most Preposterous Uniforms: The NASL actually had some decent kits, so there was a landslide winner in this category.

Behold … the Colorado Caribou home shirt from 1978: 

We know what you’re thinking—but no, they really did wear those things in actual games. Look, photographic evidence: 

Most Unexpected Broadcaster: Current ESPN baseball man Jon Miller! Here he is doing a San Jose Earthquakes–LA Aztecs game back in the day.

The game-show theme music, the endless opening sequence, the cutting-edge graphics, and of course, Miller’s dynamic hairstyle. (Also: not a bad crowd on hand.) You can’t get enough of this stuff:

Most Atrocious Facility: Downing Stadium, Randalls Island, NY. There may very well have been worse fields in the league, but this one hosted Pelé’s debut:

We struggle to find a comparison. Maybe Michael Jordan making a late-career move to, oh, China, and being forced to play basketball on an outdoor blacktop court … with rain puddles on it? Yeah, there really are no parallels.

Worst “Innovation”: The “35-yard-line” for offside. In an attempt to goose scoring, the league used this marker, instead of the halfway-line, to determine offside.

Runner-up: AstroTurf.

Best Innovation: The shootout! Not from the penalty spot, but a “breakaway” from the 35-yard line. Skeptical? In the Cosmos documentary Once In A Lifetime, no less an authority than Johan Cruyff came down solidly in favor of it, saying that Europe should adopt it today. Pele and Beckenbauer also liked it.

Best American Player: Roy Wegerle. He only played one season (1984), but he scored nine goals and then went on to an accomplished career in Europe. Also played for the U.S. in the ’94 and ’98 World Cups.

Quiz!

Hints provided—and nothing too obscure or trivial. Googling prohibited.

1. Name the two players who played in both the NASL and Major League Soccer.

Hint: One is a South African by birth who played for the USMNT, and the other is a recent coach of the Mexican national team.

2. Who was MVP of the final (1984) NASL season?

Hint: He went on to a legendary indoor-soccer career—as much as such thing is possible—with the New York Arrows, among other clubs. Also earned 14 caps for Yugoslavia.

3. Which team won the league in ’84?

Hint: They had a German striker with a wicked left foot, and were located in the Midwest, like the Columbus Crew, which has the same black-and-yellow color scheme as this team did.

4. Who is the NASL’s alltime leading scorer?

Hint: This one’s easy.

5. Which team suited up George Best, Teofilo Cubillas, and Gerd Muller, yet never won an NASL title?

Hint: They also featured former MLS coach and current Gol TV commentator Ray Hudson—and they might be coming back.

Answers in the comments section.

Thanks to Old 27, the Striker Liker, and the excellent site NASL Memories.