Ask a soccer fan to name the flagship franchise of the North American Soccer League and one answer will invariably come back: the New York Cosmos.
Ask the same question about Major League Soccer, and you’re likely to get a blank stare, some stalling for time, and then a variety of tepid answers.
One name you’re not likely to hear at all is the New York Red Bulls – or their predecessors, the New York/New Jersey MetroStars.
As Seattle Sounders FC makes what is likely to be its only visit to Giants Stadium today, the Red Bulls are trying to right a ship that has sunk to the bottom of the MLS standings. Any hopes of becoming the MLS flagship is this country’s largest media market will have to come later.
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“Success is very important for any franchise,” said Andy McGowan, Red Bulls vice president of communications/community relations. “New York is probably more important because of the franchises that are presently here that have won championships, between baseball, basketball, football.”
And then, there’s that soccer team that no longer exists: The Cosmos, who began their reign in 1971 as the great NASL dynasty, won championships in 1972, ’77, ’78, ’80 and ’82.
And while the team is gone, its memory isn’t.
“(The Cosmos) is brought up,” McGowan said. “But ... there was a time frame when there wasn’t soccer here. So when MLS started in 1996, it started from scratch. But we get people who will talk about the Cosmos and back in the ’70s and early ’80s from time to time. But I don’t think that there is anything more than that. It was phenomenal here in the ’70s and ’80s in terms of attendance, in terms of the players that played here.”
Among the players who wore Cosmos uniforms were Franz Beckenbauer, Giorgio Chinaglia and the immortal Pelé. The team averaged more than 40,000 fans from 1978-80 and over 30,000 from 1977-81.
The best-known current Red Bulls player is designated player Juan Pablo Angel. And the team averages 10,966 at Giants Stadium, which also was the final home of the Cosmos.
Now, the Red Bulls believe better days are ahead.
For one thing, the teams averaged about 50 percent more fans – 15,928 – last season, when the Red Bulls advanced to the MLS Cup final. For another, in 2006 they moved under the ownership of Red Bull – the international energy drink manufacturer, which also has a sports arm involved in soccer, auto racing and aviation sports.
The new owners’ most important move may be the ongoing construction of a 25,000-seat soccer-specific stadium in Harrison, N.J., which will be ready for next season.
“It will be the soccer facility that I think all of us will be measured by in terms of creating a soccer-specific stadium here in America,” McGowan said. “(Red Bull has worked to) create a first-class environment. ... in terms of soccer atmosphere. I think next year is going to be phenomenal once we get in there at the beginning of the season.”
For now, the Red Bulls are struggling: low in attendance, last in the standings.
They were the opponent for the Sounders’ inaugural game, and the expansion team beat the defending MLS Cup runners-up, 3-0. Now, at the season’s midpoint, the Red Bulls are 2-10-3 and their nine points leave them seven behind the next-lowest team in the Eastern Conference and tied with San Jose for worst in the league.
However, the Sounders (5-3-6; 21) are playing their third game in eight days and are coming off not only a cross-country plane ride but also one of their most disappointing results of the season: surrendering a two-goal lead at home Wednesday in a 3-3 draw with D.C. United. The tying score came on an own-goal in the final minutes.
Given the Sounders’ uncertain physical and mental state, today’s game become all the more difficult and all the more important.
“We have to (get the Wednesday) result out of our heads, I think,” Seattle rookie Steve Zakuani said. “... The way to get it out of our systems is to go to New York and to get three points.”
sounders fc gameday
SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC (5-3-6; 21 points) AT NEW YORK RED BULLS (2-10-3; 9 pts.)
4:30 p.m., Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.
TV: KONG 6/16. Radio: 97.3-FM, 1210-AM (Spanish).
Head to head: The Sounders opened the season with a 3-0 win over New York at Qwest Field in the only previous meeting.
Statistical leaders: For Seattle – G, 6 Fredy Montero; A, 4 Nate Jaqua; Sh, 42 Montero; SOG, 15 Montero. For New York – G, 4 Juan Pablo Angel; A, 3 Macoumba Kandji; Sh, 46 Angel; SOG, 22 Angel.
Notes: The Red Bulls are tied for the worst record in the league. They have lost six straight games and haven’t won since May 8. They have one goal over their last three games. ... The Red Bulls will be without D Andrew Boyens, who is playing with the New Zealand national team, and D Mike Petke, who is out due to disciplinary suspension. ... For Seattle, M Peter Vagenas (ankle) and D Tyrone Marshall (knee) as listed as probable. No Sounder is out due to disciplinary suspension. However, F Nate Jaqua has four yellow cards and if he gets another today he will be ineligible for the next game. ... New York is 2-3-2 at Giants Stadium. The Sounders are 1-2-3 on the road.
Next: 1 p.m. June 28, Colorado Rapids, Qwest Field, KONG.
Don Ruiz, The News Tribune