Last season was a dream year for the New York Cosmos. They returned to New York and the North American Soccer League after a near 30-year absence. They won their first game of the year, at Hofstra University’s Shuart Stadium, 2-1 in front a capacity crowd of 11,929. And, after finishing the regular season with just one loss, the Cosmos defeated the Atlanta Silverbacks, 1-0, to win the club’s sixth title in NASL history and their first since 1982.
The Cosmos held their media day Friday and all present seemed ready to improve on the success of last season.
“It’s unbelievable that a team, after so many years, came back, started with a front office, hired a coach, got players and went on to win the championship,” said Shep Messing, the team’s broadcaster. “For me, it’s the miracle of New York. And it’s the first step.”
Giovanni Savarese is back again as head coach of the Cosmos. His second season will come with the added pressure of being a defending champion, but he seemed determined.
“We feel very confident in our team this year,” Savarese said. “We feel that we are stronger. We added some quality players and we’re going to take it the same way, game by game.”
The NASL has added two more teams this season and Savarese admits it will be quite a challenge for the Cosmos to repeat as champions.
“I think there’s no question that the league is stronger this year,” Savarese said. “You can see teams, in their signings, are going to compete. The NASL is going to be more competitive and more difficult.”
To prepare his team for a longer season than last year’s, Savarese said his team had a long preseason. He said he felt his team had more depth than last year and that it would be well prepared for the lengthier schedule.
“We’re very excited to start our season,” Savarese said. “We worked very hard and it’s been a long preseason, so we’re definitely excited to start playing competitive games.”
Another challenge for this year’s Cosmos will be the team’s first appearance in the U.S. Open Cup. This 68-team tournament features 16 teams from Major League Soccer, six from the NASL and 12 from USL PRO.
“I think it will be a good thermometer for us, to be able to play with some of those teams,” Saverese said. “I think it will be great to have the opportunity to measure ourselves with Major League Soccer.”
Measuring up to the best U.S. talent will be critical to the Cosmos’ future success. The team has plans for a 25,000-seat stadium in Belmont, N.Y., and it may take another successful season to get approval for it.
The Cosmos’ Chief Operating Officer Eric Stover spoke about the team’s stadium plans at media day.
“We’re very confident that we’ve put forth the best bid of anybody that submitted a bid,” Stover said. “We think the last thing that region needs is another strip mall.”
Stover said the Cosmos’ bid was double the size in construction, economic impact and job creation, and that it did not include any taxpayer money.
“We feel very good about it, we’re just waiting for the process to unfold,” Stover said. “Hopefully it is us as a preferred bidder, but for now we’re just staying patient.”
Though the Cosmos do not face top-tier MLS talent, Stover does not see the team as second class.
“We want to be at the top of the pyramid in the United States,” Stover said. “Any team in any sport, if they’re going to be successful, you need your own stadium. And if we do what we want to do, it will be the best stadium in the United States for soccer. And it will be a huge step forward for us putting the Cosmos back on top.”
Savarese said he thought the team was on track to do just that. He and Stover both acknowledged the difficulty in building the Cosmos, but Savarese expressed trust in his players.
“We’re not going to make a decision just to sell a shirt or because we want to bring a name,” Savarese said. “It has to be the right person.”
For now, the team will continue to play its home games at Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium. The Cosmos open their season on April 13 against the Silverbacks, and the first 5,000 fans will receive a limited edition Pelé T-shirt.
“Last year was a great year for us, very successful,” Stover said “And now, heading into 2014, we’re excited to do it all over again.”