NEW YORK -- The New York Cosmos - who once employed the likes of global superstars Pele and Franz Beckenbauer - launched the biggest sign of their intent to again become a major brand in North American soccer on Wednesday when they unveiled plans for a $400 million stadium project.
The team's ownership plans on fully financing the stadium aspect of the project, which will be located in in Belmont Park, N.Y., a figure that is expected to land a bit over $200 million for the expected 25,000 seat arena. To put this in context, Red Bull Arena - the home to Major League Soccer's franchise in the New York area - cost around the same.
As exciting as these developments are, a very real question remains for the team that will play in the North American Soccer League next season. Is it a bit overambitious to invest that much into a club that isn't guaranteed entry into MLS? Cosmos' part-owner Seamus O’Brien doesn't believe so.
"This team is coming back 30 years after it last kicked a ball," O'Brien told Goal.com. "We have an unbelievable legacy and history. But history doesn't build you business."
He continued to explain: "You have to start with very strong foundations as a business, as a team and in the community that you want to operate in."
For O'Brien and the Cosmos, the important objective is to create a financially stable operation, which is pivotal in light of the team's history. When the Cosmos initially relaunched their brand in 2010, part of the early complications included the fact that they were unable to guarantee funding for a soccer-specific stadium. Sites all over New York City were mentioned as possible stadium locations but there was never a concrete plan. Under new management, the team has finally solved that issue.
While O'Brien hints that the Cosmos would like to play in MLS, he believes that the club and its top-class facilities will attract fans regardless of which league it plays in. He also adds that the NASL has ambitious owners, which will likely see the league improve.
"I want this team to play at the highest level possible," he said. "How it all evolves in five or 10 years, I'm not going to be bold enough to predict. But we want to play in the highest level. If that ends up being MLS, that's fine. The fact that we got our stadium makes us a more suitable owner."
O'Brien added: "We wanted to start in a league with a strong affinity between us and the league [the NASL], where we lived successfully years ago, a league with a good future. There are other new owners in the league that share our ambitions."
Until MLS decides on the future of its second New York team, both the league and the Cosmos will be linked due to the club's extensive history and brand. It is still the most popular New York soccer team in the metropolitan area as people fondly remember the team's success from the 1970s. Despite the Cosmos' obvious popularity, one barrier that they could face in joining MLS is the club's decision to place the stadium just outside of the city.
After seeing the Red Bulls struggle to attract fans in nearby Harrison, N.J., MLS Commissioner Don Garber has insisted that New York's second team should be in one of the five boroughs, allowing it to be accessible by public transportation. Belmont Park sits 10 miles away from MLS's desired location of Corona Park, outside of the city's MTA subway limits though easily accessible by the Long Island Rail Road.
Regardless of what MLS has set out in its requirements, O'Brien defends the Cosmos' choice of location. He points to the fact that the team is joining an effort to renovate and create a major entertainment hub in the Belmont area. He claims that many of the major issues that face stadium development - such as transportation and infrastructure - are not an issue with the new location. He also said there were plenty of incentives provided by the state in developing in that area. In what could be interpreted as a slight knock towards MLS's current requirements, O'Brien states that the Cosmos' plan is convenient and economically viable.
"We're responding to a request [by New York state and the Belmont area] rather than imposing what we want on something else," he said.
"I think everyone is realistic over the complexities of trying to build a modern sports facility in this day and age, the availability of land and all of those issues. So to find a site that is as good as this, right on the edge of Queens in Nassau county...
"Is it 10 miles further out from what we ideally wanted? Yeah, but you're not going to get a site 10 miles further in. So you have to go for it."
He also believes that the Cosmos won't be hindered by the Red Bulls' attendance woes due to the fact that Long Island has a inclination towards soccer, including healthy youth participation in the sport.
"Look, Long Island is a hot bed for soccer. There are soccer leagues, tens of thousands of kids are signed up. We've always felt that is our heartland," he said.
"We are very confident that that is our foundation for the club. That's the fanbase, that's the youth and we're happy with where this is located."
O'Brien wants the Cosmos to be an entertaining brand as soon as the NASL season starts in August, three years before the stadium is expected to open during the summer of 2016. He expects head coach Giovanni Savarese to continue recruiting solid players as it prepares for its first season back since 1984. If the team stays in NASL for the foreseeable future, O'Brien insists he will be content as long as the team is run solidly.
But, hopefully for North American soccer fans, MLS is watching from afar.