Could Cosmos make it 'twice in a lifetime'?

MIAMI - The story of Pele and the New York Cosmos was captured in a documentary called "Once in a Lifetime" but plans for the reformed club to join Major League Soccer may be a case of history repeating itself.

The original Cosmos, featuring Pele and Franz Beckenbauer in the 1970s, took soccer in the U.S. from a kids' pastime to glitzy big time news, filling the old Giants Stadium for games against teams like the Tampa Bay Rowdies.

But when the North American Soccer League - complete with garish jerseys, synthetic fields and novel rule changes - vanished in a pile of debt in the early 1980s, the dream of the Cosmos becoming an established force in the global game died with it.

Now though, British investors are looking to get the Cosmos back into professional football, reforming the club and beginning talks to get the team into Major League Soccer, which has been steadily growing since beginning play in 1996.

On Wednesday, the Cosmos announced that former Manchester United and France favourite Eric Cantona was their new director of football.

While there may be the air of publicity stunt around that appointment - the Cosmos do not yet have a team or a stadium - there is no doubt that serious plans are being put in place to bring the new Cosmos into the professional arena.

Dan Courtemanche, head of communications for MLS, told Reuters on Wednesday that the league has held several meetings with the Cosmos, who are chaired by former Tottenham Hotspur director Paul Kemsley and who boast Pele as honourary president.

"The meetings have been very productive and we have more meetings scheduled with them in the very near future. We have been very impressed with their vision, commitment and passion for the sport and also for the legacy of the Cosmos brand," said Courtemanche.

"They have a vision of how to make this storied football brand, hip and relevant for today's marketplace and their goal is, as they have stated, to be able to launch as an MLS club."

The Cosmos also have Rick Parry, former chief executive of Liverpool and ex-head of England's Premier League, on their board and former U.S international Cobi Jones as "associate director of soccer."

Giorgio Chinaglia, the Italian who was a central figure in the old Cosmos, is listed as the club's "international ambassador" while Terry Byrne, a close friend of David Beckham's, who has worked with the England national team and the L.A. Galaxy, is vice-chairman.

MLS wants its 20th team to be based in New York - the current team in the area, the New York Red Bulls, who feature former Arsenal and France striker Thierry Henry, are based in New Jersey.

QUEENS TARGETED

The major problem facing the Cosmos is the issue of a stadium.

"Like any potential owner for an MLS expansion team in New York, they need to finalise a plan for a stadium, that is clearly a significant obstacle but they are working hard on it," said Courtemanche.

"We are certainly working hard to find a solution for a stadium for a potential team and it could be where it is a partnership with various groups, maybe one group comes in on the stadium and another on the team.

"There continue to remain multiple scenarios for what could occur for that 20th team."

The focus is on the borough of Queens and MLS have held meetings in the past with the Wilpon family, owner of the New York Mets baseball team.

"We do not have a stadium location yet but we are working on it with potential investors, including the Cosmos, and we do believe Queens would be a very successful location for an MLS expansion team," said Courtemanche.

"There is a lot of interest in a potential second team in the New York market."

In a recent interview with Sports Illustrated, Byrne, who began his involvement in the game as a masseur at Chelsea, said the team hopes to play some friendly games this year before joining MLS in 2013.

That may be a very optimistic timeline but there is clearly a will from MLS to embrace the Cosmos brand and the excitement it generated.


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