UPDATE: The New York Cosmos have announced today, Wednesday November 20th that the National Independent Soccer Association (NISA) has approved their application for membership.
The New York Cosmos, in what was the worst kept secret, has submitted their application to join the National Independent Soccer Association (NISA), a Division Three league provisionally sanctioned by the United States Soccer Federation (USSF). If successful, what will this mean for our club?
It seems like ages ago when Joe Barone, before his relocation to the Fiorentina organization, went on record to emphatically say that Cosmos To NISA would never happen. It's a testament to how much of a roller coaster ride these past six months have been, and how you can absolutely never really say never in American soccer.
NISA might not be the best league for the popular understanding of what it means to be the Boys In Green, but our options are few. Either we participate in NISA in 2020 and hope for the best, or take a hiatus and hope the NASL wins the lawsuit on terms favorable for stability.
As a fan who wants to see an active club, I must pick the first option.
Of course any new league will experience growing pains in the beginning, but it's not something the Cosmos haven't seen in the past. Back in the modern era NASL the Cosmos witnessed different ownership groups and clubs come and go. I'm not trying to say that's a great fact, but it's one rooted in the lower division landscape created by US Soccer. Life in lower division soccer is uncertain, whether your club resides in the USL - allies of MLS/SUM/USSF - or in NPSL. Something like 14 USL teams have dissolved in just the past five years alone. There is no ambient security, there is just time.
Fans on social media, unhappy with the two options before them, believe there is a third. But what is that path? A few voices suggest we should opt for sitting out the next year, and hope for better days. This requires you to believe that circumstances are static and no further net harm is accumulated through inaction.
If you support a possible hiatus, you're not just waiting for the lawsuit to be officially resolved, which will definitely not be a quick process, you're supporting another year of the organization operating on minimal life support. You're supporting another year of inertia, even as challenges - a USL-C side rising in Queens; a Sky Blue FC move to Red Bull Arena in 2020 - loom close to home space. As for the lawsuit itself, one can hope for resolution in 2020 in time for action in 2021, but dates, and arguments change every week. It remains a crapshoot whether a settlement or outright victory will produce changes in how US soccer is regulated enough to support a functioning landscape for the Cosmos. And of course, the plaintiff might also lose in trial.
The Cosmos are the biggest brand in U.S Soccer, a club that undoubtedly should be playing at a higher level than Division Three. But in the current climate of U.S Soccer, divisions are rendered without context to merit or purpose. They are a vehicle used to protect preferred winners from competition. Until the current rules change, getting hung up on what division a club sits at is tantamount to conceding on a fundamental injury for no benefit. USSF divisions mean nothing in this country if they do not represent sporting merit.
The NASL and the Cosmos will continue the fight for independent soccer, even if the Cosmos do indeed join NISA. Without the context of USSF-derived D3 team requirements, the organization would likely continue to coast on fumes even were there a third viable option. The necessity of a front office staff - even at so-called D3 levels - and other organizational infrastructure will mitigate years of backslide. Heroics were performed by the half-skeleton front office crew this year, but so much engagement and community interaction has been left on the table. In some ways, it's been invigorating to see Five Points supporters and the front office work so closely together on what little could be done. If nothing else, and even if few witnessed it, 2018 will go down as a watermark year of the Cosmos for community club collaboration. But without additional resources, clearer goals and back-office staff, the Cosmos will remain mired in purgatory.
And nothing is diverted from the merits of the lawsuit by doing so. Lawyer and soccer fan MIki Turner has confirmed on Twitter that the Cosmos can join NISA without hurting ongoing efforts because NASL, not the Cosmos, is the plaintiff suing the federation. The damage is already done; in fact, should the USSF move to block the Cosmos' entry into NISA, or interfere with NISA too directly, they will only prejudice their own case. Here's hoping for Jeffery Kessler to step up and deliver a winning goal.
We have you covered here at First Team Podcast on the lawsuit and the proposed move of the Cosmos to NISA. We expect there will be news by Thanksgiving or the first week of December. Let's go New York Cosmos!
James Izurieta contributed to this article.