Have the Cosmos reached the limit of their universe?


For those who love a random fact, if each of the five boroughs of New York City were a separate city, Brooklyn would rank as the third-most populous city in the whole of the United States, behind Los Angeles and Chicago, with over 2.6 million people within its borders.  The second biggest borough is Queens.  It was also the birth place of the credit card, the first US roller coaster and Brooklyn Beer.  If you want (and can) live in New York then Brooklyn isn’t a bad spot, as my good friend Luge Pravda can testify.

22806797358_53dda10aea_kAnd testify he did as we headed back from a borefest at the MetLife Stadium where we had witnessed the LA Rams beat the New York Jets by 9 points to 6.  It wasn’t proper football as the conversation went, highlighting our very British view about the game to try and get some audience participation on the train ride.  Alas, everyone seemed to be in a degenerative state of boredom thanks to the last 3 hours of NFL.  Whilst that may have been their weekend sporting highlight, we still had the prospect of watching the cumulation of the North American Soccer League season as the New York Cosmos faced Indy Eleven in very unfamiliar surroundings.

At the start of the season all of the teams in the NASL had to submit venues for all potential dates including the play-offs.  Unfortunately, Hofstra University, the normal home of the Cosmos,  told them nearly a year ago that the stadium couldn’t be used in the second weekend in November.  The club could have rented another suitable venue but it would have been on the off-chance of making the final.  They couldn’t “wing it”.  They had to submit firm details of a venue even though they had no idea whether they would need it.

The club looked at a host of venues, including MCU Park, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones, which is rumoured to be the Cosmos’ next permanent home.  However, they would have to cover up the Baseball diamond at a significant cost, so once again that venue was dismissed.  There’s no news as to whether the club actually approached either the RedBulls to hire the RedBull Arena or New York City, although the costs of hiring the Yankee Stadium would have been prohibitive, as too would have been the Met Life, albeit being the spiritual home of the club.

There was a last-ditch attempt to negotiate the use of Hofstra University again but even with the potential of midweek dates agreed between the play-off teams, the talks came to nothing and the only option the club had was Belson Stadium, a three sided university soccer field, built on top of a car park, which could only hold 2,600 fans, 30% less than the Cosmos’ average home attendance this season.  Hardly the season finale they had planned.

These factors all added up meaning that the venue was really unsuitable for the game, unwanted by the NASL and deeply unpopular with the fans of both teams.  Oh, and a pain in the arse to get to, with no public transport in the vicinity, meaning everyone, which in our case, I, had to drive there.

25349765629_f11437307b_kFor those who have read The Football Tourist 2: The Second Half, you will be very familiar with the Cosmos story in the chapter “Twice in a Lifetime” – if not then I would thoroughly recommend buying it now otherwise the next bit won’t make any sense at all.  It is quite scandalous how their heritage counted for nothing when the MLS were considering a second franchise in New York, and it appears that there is very little chance of them getting an opportunity to join the elite, any time soon.  In February 2014, MLS commissioner Don Garber named three other markets as candidates for the final expansion team that would get the league’s stated 24-team target by 2020,, which did not include New York and on April 25, 2014, he told Associated Press’s sports editors that there would not be a third MLS team in New York, effectively ending any hope on the Cosmos gaining a place back at the top table, on merit rather than on politics, which essentially made the whole NASL Championship a little bit of an anti-climax.  The Cosmos could win the league and the play-offs for the next decade and still not get a look in.

Since my last visit in 2014 the Cosmos had been almost unstoppable. They finished the 2015 spring season unbeaten, finishing in first place, although the second half of the season saw them lose four times and finish in third place.  However, they went on to win the Soccer Bowl, beating Ottawa Fury in from of a NASL record crowd of 10,166 at Hofstra.  The game also marked the final career appearance of Spanish legend Raúl, who had chosen to age gracefully in New York, resisting the offers from the MLS to play with the Cosmos.  They also reached the fifth round of the US Open cup in June 2015, losing to New York Red Bulls over in New Jersey, although in the previous round they did beat New York City 4-3 on penalties in front of 11,940, a record attendance at the James M. Shuart Stadium, a very bitter sweet moment considering the situation with the New York expansion franchise.

This season has seen them go from strength to strength.  Whilst the playing budget was cut, although most of that was down to the retirement of Raúl, they could still boast a squad of 12 different nationals.  They finished the first half of the season in 2nd place behind Indy Eleven, although the two teams finished on the same number of points, the same number of goals scored and goals conceded, with the team from Indianapolis awarded the title based on their 2-1 victory over the Cosmos early in the season. However, in the fall season the Cosmos were dominant from game one, finishing 10 points clear of Indy Eleven in top spot.

The play-offs went according to plan, with both the Cosmos and Indy Eleven winning with ease, interestingly in the case of New York in front of over 5,000 fans at Hofstra, setting up the fourth meeting between the two sides of the season.  As we took our seats we could see and hear the two sets of fans at either end of the stadium trying to generate an atmosphere, which was tough considering the capacity for the 3-sided ground was just over 2,000.  To our right were the Cosmos fans, made up of the Borough Boys, La Banda del Cosmos and The Cross Island Crew, whilst at the far end the travelling Indy Eleven fans made the noise.  Even stevens on and off the pitch it seemed.

New York Cosmos 0 Indy Eleven 0 (4-2 on pens) – Belson Stadium, Queens – Sunday 13th November 2016
It’s fair to say this wasn’t a classic.  It seemed relatively obvious from early in the game that there was little between the two sides and the game would be decided by a moment of magic or madness.  Alas, the game lacked examples of either and was finally decided by some poor penalty kicks by the visitors to give the Cosmos their third NASL Championship in the past four seasons.

During the two hours of football there were only five shots on goal, although the away side came the closest to scoring in the ninety minutes when Nemanja Vuković broke down the left and his cross was met by the impressive Don Smart on the half-volley, which hit the bar and bounced to safety. Despite Cosmos having the most valuable player in the league in the form of Juan Arango, denoted by his Golden Ball award at half time, they created very little in the game.

Full-time merged into extra-time with no real delineation between the stages of the game.  By the time we got to half-time in extra-time it was blatantly obvious the game would be going to penalties.  We did have some late drama when Arrieta crossed from the left to Diosa in the centre of the penalty area. His first touch escaped him, but Diosa stayed with the play, turned and hit a right-footed shot that just skipped wide of the near post.  The final whistle put us out of our misery.

Indy went first in the shootout and Nicki Paterson, a Scot who 16 games with Clyde no less, beat the Cosmos goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer with a shot inside the far post. Jairo Arrieta stepped up for the Cosmos and smacked his shot off the far post and in. The majority of the crowd gave a heavy breath out that was soon replaced by cheers as Eamon Zayed’s spot kick hit both posts and someone stayed out.  Another Scot, former Elgin City star Adam Moffat coolly slotted the ball straight down the middle and the pressure was on Indy Eleven.

In a somewhat surprising decision, veteran keeper Jon Busch stepped up but blazed the ball high and wide, almost handing the title on a plate (or in this instance a bowl), to the Cosmos.  It was left to Ryan Ritcher to take the decisive penalty for the home side, making the final score 4-2.  Cue the wild celebrations that included a flare or two being set off in the Cosmos fans, leading to panic among the Campus Police (really) who had never had to deal with such an event.

On my last trip to see the Cosmos I said that I couldn’t see what the future holds for them, and two years down the road I still don’t understand where they can go next.  They need to test themselves against better opposition each week, they need their own stadium so they can attract more commercial revenues and of course fans.  Their “once in a lifetime” opportunity seems to have been and gone, so now they are most definitely a very big fish in a relatively small pond.

Two weeks after the game came the news that the NASL may be no more and with it would go any opportunity for the Cosmos to carry on in their current form.  This story may not end here and it is unlikely when it does to be a happy one.

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Post-season Blues….and Citizens and Spurs


A weeks after the end of the season used to be the reserve of testimonials for long-serving players and club officials. Football has moved on, and the likelihood of a player staying at one club for 5 years, let alone a decade is very rare. Look at the final top four in the Premier League – John Terry at Chelsea (11 years since debut) is the stand out exception to this; Man City could boast Micah Richards (10 years) although 179 appearances in ten years and spending the last season on loan to Fiorentina, whilst Arsenal of course have the £2m a year forgotten man (by most outside of the Emirates anyway) Abou Diaby who made his debut in 2006.

This week Crystal Palace honoured the service of their long-serving keeper Julián Speroni who had made over 350 appearances since joining the club in 2004 with a testimonial against former club Dundee. However, Palace appeared to be the exception rather than the rule of playing post-season games with any altruistic meaning.

Yet twenty four hours after Palace honoured their keeper, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur were due to play games of their own. This time it wasn’t to honour a particular player, or reward any member of the club for long service. In fact it is hard to think of any reason apart from a commercial obligation why they would be heading to Canada and Malaysia respectively.

The clubs will argue it is all about building a fan base in new markets, but does that really stack up? With the Premier League season done and dusted less than 72 hours previous, why would Manchester City decide it was a good idea for their squad to fly 3,500 miles to Toronto? Assuming they left on Monday, that’s quite a strain on the players having just completed a full season, and one that was proceeded for many of the players by the World Cup in Brazil and also included a mid-season game in Abu Dhabi against Hamburg. Straight after the game in Toronto they then head to Texas (a mere 1,500 miles) where 24 hours later they take on Houston.

Tottenham Hotspur haven’t exactly been brimming with joy at the prospect of another Europa League campaign next season. Back in April Mauricio Pochettino admitted the Europa League is a hindrance to a Premier League club’s domestic aspirations, yet the club have already headed East for a game in Malaysia on Wednesday before flying onto Australia to take on Sydney on Saturday. They will be joined down under by Chelsea who also take on Sydney on Tuesday night after a stop in Thailand to play the”All Stars XI” on Saturday. It’s hard to have sympathy with the clubs when they complain about fixture congestion then take off on such trips.

What makes these trips even more strange in terms of their timing is a number of the players will be included in International squads for friendlies being played on the 6th and 7th June.  England, Republic of Ireland, Brazil, France, Argentina and Ghana are all due to play that weekend, putting further strain on the players.

These post season games seem to be a growing trend. Not that it detracts from their pre-season games – Manchester City will be heading to Australia to take part in the newly expanded International Champions Cup, taking on Roma and Barcelona in Melbourne, whilst Chelsea play in the North American edition against New York RedBulls, PSG and Barcelona. Spurs will be one of the other four current Premier League sides heading Stateside  as they take on the MLS All-Stars at the wonderfully named Dick’s Sporting Goods Store Stadium in he equally brilliantly named Commerce City in Colorado.

Football is a highly competitive global game on and off the pitch, but do these post-season games really help the players, who are the profit generators when viewed with commercial glasses on? Do you think Mourinho, Pellegrini and Pochettino have the same enthusiasm for these trips as adidas, Samsung, Nike, Etihad, Armour and AIA have? In some instances the club’s have to perform based on clauses in hugely profitable commercial partnerships, underlining the shift from the people’s game to a game dominated by money. That’s not a surprise. Tomorrow’s avid Chelsea or Man City fan is just as likely to live in Shanghai as he is in Streatham or Stretford, snapping up all the club have to offer in a digital format such as the ability to watch these games exclusively in the club’s online TV channel.

Tickets for the games in Thailand and Malaysia aren’t cheap. When Chelsea play in the Rajamangala National Stadium on Saturday in the Singha Celebration Match (Chelsea’s Global Beer Partner), tickets range from around £10 to close to £80, which is almost a third of the average monthly income in Thailand. Even Arsenal cannot boast that price to income ratio yet! Meanwhile over in Selangor where the average Malaysian earns approximately £900 per month, tickets for the AIA Cup (Spurs shirt sponsor) game will cost between £10 and £75 although there are no concessions at all.

I’m sure the fans who are following their teams across the world will enjoy the opportunity to visit some new cities, whilst the marketing officials and PR companies will do their best to get players to look happy at choreographed public appearances. The clubs will stand firmly behind the pretext of building their brand in new markets, but does this simply add more weight to the stealth plans of Game 39 once more?

Postscript – 28/5 – Man City’s game at the BBVA stadium in Houston was postponed after the team arrived in Texas due to issues with the pitch.  Well, that was worth it then.

On the seventh day of TBIR Christmas – The Best Game of 2014


Happy New Year one and all…I hope last night wasn’t too hard on you all mentally and have your winter woollies on ready for a day at football..

We’ve seen a few turkey’s this season, and we’ve seen a fair few average games.  In fact it is hard to reflect on whether a game is good or bad in the hour or so after it finishes.  So trying to choose three of the best games of the year is a bit easier when we put everyone into context and focus. But three we did find, although it was easier to find the three worse games!

3rd Place – USA 2 Turkey 1
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For the USA this was one of the last warm-up games before they jetted off to Brazil.  For Turkey, it was a distraction from their shopping trip in 5th Avenue.  The last time I was at the Red Bull Arena, the kick off had been delayed to try and rustle up a few more fans to break the four digit mark for the Red Bulls.  For this game we had to pay over $80 for a ticket on the secondary market.  #MNTUSA was in full effect.  The Americans do patriotism end of.  Everything about the game was rammed full of nationalism (in a good way). The game itself was very open, with the USA impressing from the first minute.  I could almost forgive the ridiculous licencing laws in US sports grounds….almost I said.

2nd Place – Real Madrid 2 Sevilla 0
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Chances to see some of the best players in the world don’t come around every week…unless you live in Munich, Barcelona or Madrid of course.  When I first heard of the Super Cup being played in Cardiff I didn’t believe it.  But then I remembered that Platini is in charge of UEFA so figured that it was another one of his bizarre decisions, although it would actually be the biggest stadium this game had been played at.  The opportunity to watch Real was too good to miss – Ronaldo, Bale, Rodriquez, Modric et al.  The weather was perfectly Welsh – sunshine and heavy rain, the hospitality was tip top and the game itself didn’t disappoint.

1st Place – Lewes 3 Grays Athletic 2
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You have to love it when your team scores an injury time winner.  It’s even sweeter when it delivers your first win of the season after a sticky start.  Add in the fact that you had also thrown away the lead when playing against 9 men and the game starts to change in context.  Amazingly, there was only two reds as both teams could have had men sent off – Lewes keeper Rikki Banks when conceeding an early penalty and veteran ex-Burnley and Reading midfielder, Glenn Little for a cynical and dangerous tackle when the visitors were already down to nine men.  But this was all about the winner, scored by Fraser Logan (and captured here by James Boyes).  The goal that saved a season?  Possibly.

Tomorrow, on day eight of the TBIR Christmas, the best

Five things from….Belgium 2 USA 1


Back by popular request for potentially his last run out in the World Cup is Andy Mack with his view from downtown Manhattan on the mood in the US Camp for their game against Belgium.

Many questions coming into this game needed to be answered:  How much time will Jozy Altidore play? (Zero.) How would the Belgian attack look? (Strong.)  Could the US see enough of the ball to pull off the upset? (Almost.) We would have our answers after a grueling 120 minute affair.

1. Tim Howard – How could we start with anyone else?  US goalkeeper Tim Howard gave one of the most courageous performances in World Cup history. Tim broke the record for most saves in a World Cup match with 16, and the US needed every one of them to stay in the match.  Howard was named Man of the Match, even in defeat.   To put things in perspective, Belgian defender and captain Vincent Kompany tweeted after the match   “Two Words.. Tim Howard #Respect #BelUSA”

2. Belgian Dominance –  The even possession numbers masked the fact that the Belgians seemed to have virtually all of the best chances to score throughout the match.  The last ten minutes of regulation time had the Americans holding on and hoping for extra time.  The insertion of Roman Lukaku into the Belgian attack provided the Red Devils the spark in the final third that impacted both goals.  The goals, and win, were well deserved.

photo 1 (28)3. Wondo…. OH NO – Many US fans knew that chances were going to be few and far between. The only path to victory was to take advantage of any scoring chances that the Belgians may concede. That single moment came in stoppage time when the ball came down on the foot of Chris Wondolowski in the 6 yard box with only the keeper to navigate.  With only charging keeper Thibaut Courtois to beat, Wondolowski skied the ball over the net. The way the game played out, you could feel that this would come back to haunt the US.

4. Klinsmann Making Great Moves – US coach Jurgen Klinsmann proved that he truly understands this team with impactful substitutions during the match. With Fabian Johnson forced to exit with what appeared to be a hamstring injury, Klinsmann looked to Deandre Yeldin. Yeldin’s speed proved to be menacing down the sideline, causing problems for the Belgian defense. With Chris Wondolowski having the chance to be a hero and Julian Green’s late goal, all three of Klinsmann’s substitutions were impactful.

5. Heads Held High – The US should walk away from this match with their heads held high.  This team proved to have the grit and guts that has been the staple of US soccer for decades.  Losing to a Belgian side (who, going into the tournament, was considered a dark horse to win it all) is not something to be ashamed of. The US will need to pair their resilient mentality with a better touch in the midfield in order to take the next step in their progression of becoming a top team.  Belgium will be moving on to face Argentina in the quarterfinals, which appears to be a matchup of two teams who have yet to fire on all cylinders.

The Beer World Cup
The beautifully crafted Delirium Tremens has the sophistication to edge out the bold, brash, Brooklyn Lager by the same score line.

Belgium 2 US 1

Five things from….Germany 1 USA 0


Back for a third time, our resident Team USA expert, Andy Mack, tucks into the German beers in Manhattan and gauges the mood of the nation as they aim to reach the second round from the Group of Death.

1. Win or draw… or loss? – The US were in a solid position entering the day, knowing that any win or draw against a strong German side would be enough to advance.  There were also scenarios in which the US could lose a close match and still advance on goal differential.  Coming into the match, conservative analysis put the US’ chances of advancing at about 75%

2. German Possession – As expected, Germany controlled virtually all of the possession in the first few minutes. The meticulous probing by the German midfield had the back line of the US on their heels for the majority of the first half.  It felt as though it was only a matter of time before they would get their breakthrough goal, and Thomas Mueller provided it on a beautiful strike in the 55th minute from just outside the box.  The goal — and lead — was well-deserved.

14327452612_fda668a0aa_b3. Michael Bradley is not himself – Michael Bradley came into this tournament as one of three anchors of this US squad (Dempsey and Howard the others).  With successful spells in Europe and great form in qualifying, many expected Bradley to be a rock in the central midfield.  That has not been the case.  Bradley will need to show some signs of life early in the match against Belgium for Klinsmann to keep him in the match and not make a change.

4. Ronaldo – All eyes were watching the score in Brasilia, as Ghana tied up the match with Portugal right as the US conceded.  This meant that, with another Ghana goal, the US could be eliminated from the tournament. After providing the cross that crushed the US in their previous match, Cristiano Ronaldo was able to put in the winning goal for Portugal with about 10 minutes left in the match. That goal gave the US a several-goal cushion to work with, and the US knew that they could be through with a 1-0 defeat. The pace of play slowed down between the US and Germany, both knowing that they would both be through.

5. Belgium on deck – The only negative about the 1-0 German victory for the US was that they would be facing the Group H winner instead of the runner-up.  Belgium is up next for the US, with Germany facing Algeria. The Belgians could be one of the more talented teams in the entire tournament, but have yet to put together a convincing win in this tournament. Expect an even match with potential for an upset.

The Beer World Cup

Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier truly outclasses the cheaper imitation Blue Moon with a dominating performance of elegance and flavor.

Germany 3 US 0

Five things from….USA 2 Portugal 2


So popular was his update from last week that Mr. Team USA is back for his view of the game last night, live from New York, New York.

1. Achilles Heel – What worried all US fans coming into this tournament became a reality as the typical slow start was capped off by Geoff Cameron’s 6th minute miscue, with Nani calmly slotting home the game’s first goal. The team looked shaky and appeared to be on the ropes before being able to right the ship a few minutes after the goal.

photo 2 (30)2. Settling in nicely – Once the initial shock wore off, it felt as though the US was controlling the pace of play. With each minute that went by, it felt as though Klinsmann’s side was destined to find the next goal. That goal came on a cracker from Jermaine Jones about 25 yards out. Clint Dempsey once again showed why he is the player the US can rely on with his clutch goal in the 81st minute which felt like it could be the one to propel the team out of the group.

3. Michael Bradley – His performance has certainly left something to be desired. The US’s most skilled and important midfielder had a dreadful opening match against Ghana, which most fans wrote off because of the victory. The spotlight is firmly on Bradley after giving away the ball rather easily in the midfield in the final seconds of stoppage time. Which brings us to…..

4. Last gasp – For the entire match, one could see that Cristiano Ronaldo was not fit. Opportunities that he would normally put in the back of the net went sailing high. Ronaldo’s trademarked explosiveness and ability to take on defenders were limited due to a knee injury. But there are few players in the world that can change everything in one instant (See: Messi) and Cristiano took full advantage by sending a beautiful ball onto the head of Silvestre Varela. Valera’s goal was the latest goal ever scored in regulation in World Cup history. To say it hurt would be an understatement.

5. What does it mean? – The draw means that all four teams in Group G still have the ability to advance. With Germany and the US both needing a tie or win to go through, many are wondering if Klinsmann will have a gentlemen’s agreement with his home country, bringing many people back to 1982. With the US at 4 points and goal differential on their side, many sites have their chances of advancing anywhere between 75-85%. Portugal has put itself in a -4 goal differential hole, and will need something special on Thursday to have any dreams of advancing.

The Beer World Cup

The Sagres at Nando’s stands up tall, but could not compete with the Goose Island IPA.

USA 3 Portugal 1

Five things from….Ghana 1 USA 2


So what to do?  Flying over the Indian Ocean meant I couldn’t see this game, so eagerly anticipated after their warm up games last week. But I knew a man who could help so step forward Andy Mac writing live from NYC today….

14329334305_447f05bb3d_b1. Slow start no more! On a packed rooftop in NYC (with only domestic beers allowed) the stage was set for a very anxious first ten minutes.  The USA team is notorious for their slow starts, proven by Ghana’s 5th minute goal in the 2010 round of 16 match.  The sentiment of the crowd watching was, “if we can weather the first 15 minutes, we have a good chance.”  And then there was Dempsey. 30 seconds into the match, Duece proved he can be the leader we desperately needed.

2. Hamstrung by Altidore’s inury – What could go wrong with Klinsmann’s plan of leaving beloved Landon Donovan at home? If Jozy Altidore’s early first half hamstring injury keeps him out of the rest of the group stage, Jurgen is left with no proven forwards on the bench which could prove to be an issue, should the U.S. be fortunate enough to advance.

3. Ghana’s goal was well-deserved – The excitement of Dempsey’s goal quickly turned into anxiety as Ghana felt to be controlling 70% of possession for most of the match. Once Ghana figured out that sailing crosses into the box wasn’t the best game plan against a massive back line, Andre Anew slotted home a beautiful goal that had many U.S. fans now hoping to hold onto a draw.

4. John Brooks?  Just when things appeared bleak, John Brooks was able to power a beautiful header home from Graham Zusi’s corner.  Klinsmann proved to pull all the right strings, as both players came off the bench to provide the U.S. the spark it needed to survive.  John Brooks, who only has five caps for the U.S., told reporters that he had a dream in which he would score the game winner vs Ghana in the 88th minute. Can you even make this stuff up?

5. Timing is everything – With the US having survived, the door is now wide open for them to advance. The earlier Portugal/Germany match could not have played out any better for the U.S. Pepe’s red card, Ronaldo’s health, and a massive goal deficit have given Tim Howard and company an unbelievable spot heading into Sunday’s match against Portugal.  With the Germans likely having top of the group in their grasp (assuming a win against Ghana), the U.S. may even have hope for their last match should they need a point to advance. Timing is everything, and Jurgen Klinsmann’s team could not be happier with how the schedule has set them up.

The Beer World Cup

Budweiser? Miller? Coors? Pah!  The trend these days is for IPA craft beers and so the Thirsty Dog IPA from Ohio is the weapon of choice for this game and easily handles the challenge of Ghanaian Club Lager, which was too warm and looked passed its sell-by date.

USA 3 Ghana 0

The Kit World Cup – Day Five

adidas – 13pts
Nike – 12
Puma – 12
Lotto – 3
UhlSport – 1