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Why Rocco Commisso saved the New York Cosmos

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Rocco Commisso went from interested observer to owner of the New York Cosmos and savior of the North American Soccer League in a little over 24 hours.

And though it came together quickly, it also took a lifetime.

An Italian immigrant and cable television magnate, Commisso’s name may have come out of nowhere to Cosmos fans but in a sense his move into American soccer power is the logical next step in a lifelong relationship with soccer that began on the beaches of southern Italy, was nurtured on the field at Columbia University, and grew with his love for The Old Lady.

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Let’s take a step back, though, and recall the status of the Cosmos in late December 2016. Reigning champions of the NASL, financial troubles had the Cosmos releasing players from their contracts and putting their front office on furlough. The team looked set for at least a one year absence from the playing field, and there was a lot of smoke and certainly some fire regarding the potential demise of the NASL for a second time. It seemed probable the only silver lining was that the Cosmos would go out as champions.

twitter.com/NYCosmos
twitter.com/NYCosmos

Members of the Cosmos staff approached Commisso, 67, who was no stranger to ownership opportunities both here and abroad. Perhaps the closest he came was in 2011, when the DeBenedetto/Pallotta Group spoke with him about helping with their takeover of AS Roma. Commisso eventually declined, he says, because his Juventus fandom wouldn’t allow him to trade clubs.

The rare opportunity to save both a storied name and a growing league was too much to pass up, however.

And the sport had given him so much that he felt he owed it a debt. His Bronx high school did not field a soccer team in the 1960s, and Commisso needed help from his gym teacher to get interest from colleges, eventually winning a four-year scholarship to Columbia University. He became a three-time All-Ivy League player, and was invited to tryout for the 1972 U.S. Olympic Team.

Commisso also helped the Lions to the 1970 NCAA Tournament, scoring in a win over Buffalo State and future NBA star Randy Smith — “The highlight of my soccer life” — before using his degree to forge a wildly successful financial and media career.

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“I tell everyone my experience on the soccer field at Columbia is the one that I remember the most and which I cherish the most,” said Commisso.

“The friendships and the things that I got back from the game of soccer were a stepping stone to all I’ve done since. It was soccer that opened the door to a great institution like Columbia and now it’s my job to give back to the game.”

The game remained a big part of his life. He started an over-30 league in Westchester County,was a youth coach for 15 years and has been involved with the Columbia soccer program for almost 50 years, both as a player and alumni supporter. The university’s soccer stadium was named after him, and he was never ignorant of the fortunes of Juventus back home in Italy.

So it didn’t come as a massive surprise to those who knew him well that the Cosmos idea would intrigue him. Approached by Cosmos staffers named Joe Barone and Jack Gaeta, who also played at Columbia, Commisso was sold on the project if the NASL maintained its Division 2 status and the Cosmos could hit the pitch this season.

“There were competing bids where people wanted to shut it down and shut up the name, or buy the intellectual property rights and try to sell it to somebody else,” Commisso said. “But in neither scenario was the team going to be around in 2017. I felt an obligation to help out, and my first condition when I entered the room was I’m only here to talk about the team playing a full season in 2017.”

The NASL was granted provisional D-2 status, and Commisso sealed the deal. Years after his first offers to own a team, he was doing it his adopted hometown of New York City.

New York Cosmos player Lucky Mkosana (R) greets teammate Spanish Raul Gonzalez (L) during a Cuba vs New York Cosmos friendly soccer match on June 2, 2015 at Pedro Marrero stadium in Havana. AFP PHOTO/YAMIL LAGE (Photo credit should read YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images)
AFP PHOTO/YAMIL LAGE

There wasn’t much time to celebrate, but surely there’s been plenty to smile about. Right, Rocco?

“My smiles or my tears?” Commisso said. “This is not a typical business, like the cable business. The next day was the realization that we had to put the team together. The front office needed to be rehired. There were some emergencies that we had to deal with right at the outset. Making sure that Giovanni (Savarese) was staying around and convincing the existing players, there were only a few, that there was a club.”

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And there was that whole question of where to play. The Cosmos of the first NASL had played at Yankee Stadium and Giants Stadium, while the second spent last season at Hofstra University on Long Island. Commisso wanted back in the City, though that had proven a major obstacle for soccer teams in the Empire State.

Somehow, they found a home: MCU Park in Brooklyn, home of New York-Penn League baseball team the Brooklyn Cyclones, an affiliate of the New York Mets.

“Just think about it,” Commisso said. “New York City FC still doesn’t have a soccer-specific stadium after four years.We finalized a stadium lease and game schedules in less than a month. A great location in the Five Boroughs in a short period of time. Typically these things take years. We managed to strike a deal to bring the Cosmos back to New York City where it all began in 1971. Now we’ve gotta try to install a soccer field on top of the baseball field.

“The next major job is how to go out and fill up the stadium with fans. We went out and the appetite is very high. In the media and Twitter, so far I must say 99 percent of the comments are very positive by everyone, and especially the loyal Cosmos fans. Lots of work. We’re working day and night. Even though we don’t have the luxury of a five-month window before the start of the season, we will be ready by April 1. Gio has 16 or 17 players already signed up, so we’re almost finished filling up the team roster. We’re not there yet, but we are well on our way proceeding with Spring Training the next couple weeks.”

Commisso is careful not to guarantee much regarding his maiden voyage through the NASL. For one thing, he says, American soccer provides less opportunities for upward mobility than the rest of the world. For another, business has taught him to work harder than he speaks.

“I’ve been known my entire career for never, never making promises that I can’t deliver on,” Commisso said. “I’d rather under promise and over deliver than the other way around. As you know, plenty of people came to this country including the prior ownership of the Cosmos, where they were going to revolutionize the whole game, the whole system, and look what happened. Unfortunately, the road to establishing sustainable professional soccer in the U.S. has been littered with financial failures.”

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“The simple problem is that I don’t control my destiny. You’ve got the NASL, the USSF, MLS, the USL, the stadium issue, the money… at least on the money side I’ll be okay. I’m not gonna run out of money tomorrow, but in terms of where I want to see the Cosmos, I don’t know what the future will hold, other than doing the job a day at a time.”

That’s fine. After all, here’s one of many tremendous immigrant stories, a man who built from nothing the fifth largest cable television company in America which is wholly-owned by him and his family, and who fashioned an accolade-heavy college career without having played organized soccer before college.

“I started playing with a soccer ball that was a bunch of rags tied up with rubber bands, some underwear, too,” Commisso said of his early playing days in Italy.

“I lived in a beach town in Calabria where in the summer we played on sand and in winter in the streets. It was never organized, was always pick-up games. You showed up and the big boys decided if they needed you. Because I was the only kid crazy enough to dive on concrete, they always chose me as goalie. That was the nature of my training, not like the kids today where their playing time is organized by the parents.”

And of course, there was Juventus. Commisso was a young fan for a terrific spell that saw The Old Lady win three titles in four seasons with Welsh star John Charles, fiery Argentine forward Omar Sivori, and Giampiero Boniperti(an attack trio that in some ways calls to mind Barcelona’s current trident).

TURIN, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 11: (L-R) Mirko Vucinic, Alessandro Del Piero and Gianluigi Buffon of Juventus FC celebrate their victory after the Serie A match between Juventus FC v Parma FC at Juventus Stadium on September 11, 2011 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
Del Piero and Buffon in 2011 (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)

But what stands out to Commisso is what happened after Juventus was relegated following the Calciopoli scandal a little over a decade ago.

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“I knew I would be one of those people who stayed with the team when things got bad,” he said. “In 2006, Buffon and Del Piero, world-class icons of international soccer, they went down with the team into the Second Division. And within one year, we came back up and now we have won five-straight Seria A championships.”

Perhaps there’s a bright ray of hope in there for Cosmos fans. No, they aren’t far removed from winning a title, but they are only weeks removed from thinking their club was lost. Now it’s off to Brooklyn, and there are many reasons to schedule a visit to MCU Park in Coney Island.

NBC Sports Premier League schedule

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The new NBC Sports Premier League schedule for the 2019-20 season has been released, with time and dates for the upcoming matchweeks confirmed and here’s how you can watch it all live on TV in the USA and via Peacock online.

[ WATCH: Premier League video ] 

With games spread out across multiple days and many in separate time slots, there are lots of changes to your regular schedule as the league returns on June 17 after being suspended on March 13 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Games will be played in empty stadiums and at home venues.

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The full TV schedule for the games this month are below, plus you can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com, the NBC Sports App and by purchasing the “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold and the new Peacock streaming service from NBC.

Below is the new schedule for the Premier League on NBC Sports from June 17 to July 22 , as we will release the dates and times for the final matchweek of the 2019-20 season when they become available and how to watch them in the USA.


Premier League: How to watch, schedule in USA (all times EST)

Matchday 29

Wednesday, June 17: Aston Villa 0-0 Sheffield United
Wednesday, June 17: Man City 3-0 Arsenal

Matchday 30

Friday, June 19: Norwich 0-3 Southampton
Friday, June 19: Tottenham 1-1 Man United
Saturday, June 20: Watford 1-1 Leicester
Saturday, June 20: Brighton 2-1 Arsenal
Saturday, June 20: West Ham 0-2 Wolves
Saturday, June 20: Bournemouth 0-2 Crystal Palace
Sunday, June 21: Newcastle 3-0 Sheffield United
Sunday, June 21: Aston Villa 1-2 Chelsea
Sunday, June 21: Everton 0-0 Liverpool
Monday, June 22: Man City 5-0 Burnley

Matchday 31

Tuesday, June 23: Leicester 0-0 Brighton
Tuesday, June 23: Tottenham 2-0 West Ham
Wednesday, June 24: Man United 3-0 Sheffield United
Wednesday, June 24: Newcastle 1-1 Aston Villa
Wednesday, June 24: Norwich 0-1 Everton
Wednesday, June 24: Wolves 1-0 Bournemouth
Wednesday, June 24: Liverpool 4-0 Palace
Thursday, June 25: Southampton 0-2 Arsenal
Thursday, June 25: Burnley 1-0 Watford
Thursday, June 25: Chelsea 2-1 Man City

Matchday 32

Saturday, June 27: Aston Villa 0-1 Wolves
Sunday, June 28: Watford 1-3 Southampton
Monday, June 29: Crystal Palace 0-1 Burnley
Tuesday, June 30: Brighton 0-3 Man United
Wednesday, July 1: Everton 2-1 Leicester
Wednesday, July 1: Bournemouth 1-4 Newcastle
Wednesday, July 1: Arsenal 4-0 Norwich
Wednesday, July 1: West Ham 3-2 Chelsea
Thursday, July 2: Sheffield United 3-1 Tottenham
Thursday, July 2: Man City 4-0 Liverpool

Matchday 33

Saturday, July 4: Norwich City 0-1 Brighton
Saturday, July 4: Leicester 3-0 Crystal Palace
Saturday, July 4: Man United 5-2 Bournemouth
Saturday, July 4: Wolves 0-2 Arsenal
Saturday, July 4: Chelsea 3-0 Watford
Sunday, July 5: Burnley 1-1 Sheffield United
Sunday, July 5: Newcastle United 2-2 West Ham
Sunday, July 5: Liverpool 2-0 Aston Villa
Sunday, July 5: Southampton 1-0 Man City
Monday, July 6: Tottenham 1-0 Everton

Matchday 34

Tuesday, July 7: Crystal Palace 2-3 Chelsea
Tuesday, July 7: Watford 2-1 Norwich City
Tuesday, July 7: Arsenal 1-1 Leicester City
Wednesday, July 8: Man City 5-0 Newcastle
Wednesday, July 8: Sheffield United 1-0 Wolves
Wednesday, July 8: West Ham 0-1 Burnley
Wednesday, July 8: Brighton 1-3 Liverpool
Thursday, July 9: Bournemouth 0-0 Tottenham
Thursday, July 9: Everton 1-1 Southampton
Thursday, July 9: Aston Villa 0-3 Manchester United

Matchday 35

Saturday, July 11: Norwich City 0-4 West Ham
Saturday, July 11: Watford 2-1 Newcastle United
Saturday, July 11: Liverpool 1-1 Burnley
Saturday, July 11: Sheffield United 3-0 Chelsea
Saturday, July 11: Brighton 0-5 Manchester City
Sunday, July 12: Wolves 3-0 Everton
Sunday, July 12: Aston Villa 2-1 Crystal Palace
Sunday, July 12: Tottenham 2-1 Arsenal
Sunday, July 12: Bournemouth 4-1 Leicester City
Monday, July 13: Man United 2-2 Southampton

Matchday 36

Tuesday, July 14: Chelsea 1-0 Norwich
Wednesday, July 15: Burnley 1-1 Wolves
Wednesday, July 15: Man City 2-1 Bournemouth
Wednesday, July 15: Newcastle 1-3 Tottenham
Wednesday, July 15: Arsenal 2-1 Liverpool
Thursday, July 16: Everton v. Aston Villa, 1 p.m. ET, Gold/Peacock
Thursday, July 16: Leicester v Sheffield United, 1 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Thursday, July 16: Crystal Palace v. Man United, 3:15 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Thursday, July 16: Southampton v. Brighton, 3:15 p.m. ET, Gold/Peacock
Friday, July 17: West Ham v. Watford, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN

Matchday 37

Saturday, July 18: Norwich City v. Burnley, 12:30 p.m. ET
Sunday, July 19: Bournemouth v. Southampton, 9 a.m. ET
Sunday, July 19: Tottenham v. Leicester, 11 a.m. ET
Monday, July 20: Brighton v. Newcastle, 1 p.m. ET
Monday, July 20: Sheffield United v. Everton, 1 p.m. ET
Monday, July 20: Wolves v. Crystal Palace, 3:15 p.m. ET
Tuesday, July 21: Watford v. Man City, 1 p.m. ET
Tuesday, July 21: Aston Villa v. Arsenal, 3:15 p.m. ET
Wednesday, July 22: Man United v. West Ham, 1 p.m. ET
Wednesday, July 22: Liverpool v. Chelsea, 3:15 p.m. ET

Arteta loves Arsenal effort: ‘The fight is now equal. The rest will take time’

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It’s not insane to call Arsenal’s latest triumph a bit of an “oops” win.

Arsenal beat Liverpool 2-1 on Wednesday at the Emirates while seemingly utilizing a second-choice lineup while preparing for Saturday’s FA Cup semifinal versus Manchester City.

Alexandre Lacazette and Reiss Nelson starred in a first-half sequence that gave Arteta a very nice win for his Arsenal managerial resume, coming back from Sadio Mane’s early goal in North London.

ARSENAL – LIVERPOOL FULL MATCH REPLAY

“I was worried after 1-0 how we would react,” Arteta said after the game. “We were able to pick one moment and believe again. … The gap between the two teams today is enormous. We can not improve it in two months, but the accountability, the fight is now equal and I am very proud of that. The rest will take some time.”

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Arteta was clearly happy with the result despite Liverpool’s continued pressure on the Gunners’ goal (Goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez had a wonderful day).

You could call it the perfect tonic for a North London Derby loss.

“In terms of energy and happiness in the dressing room before the semi-final, it’s a good medicine,” he said. “To beat this team you have to have moments in the game when you take your chances, defend and have a bit of luck.”

Liverpool ‘constantly dominant’ in latest post-title setback

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Virgil van Dijk doesn’t want to hear the easy excuses after rare mistakes from Alisson Becker and Van Dijk helped Arsenal beat Liverpool 2-1 to stop the Reds’ dreams of a 100-point season.

Liverpool was controlling the early stages at the Emirates Stadium and led on a Sadio Mane goal when Van Dijk flubbed a back pass to set Alexandre Lacazette on his way to an equalizer.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

Moments later, Lacazette darted into the right flank to steal a blind Alisson pass. The Frenchman found Reiss Nelson for a 2-1 lead that went the distance.

“Until then there was nothing wrong, we played very well. So it’s easy to blame us having the title but until I made the mistake there was nothing wrong.”

It is an easy excuse but it also likely holds a lot of truth. Teams that clinch the PL title early have historically struggled down the stretch, aside from Pep Guardiola’s 2017-18 juggernaut that set the league record for points with 100.

Liverpool could’ve caught or passed that City team had it managed a draw or win on Wednesday. Klopp and Van Dijk would love to believe their team is above the historical flaws of other great teams but that’s just illogical.

Klopp puts it down to mistakes and an inability to finish any number of chances on a day Arsenal keeper made eight saves including an incredible palm stop in injury time.

“Twice, a massive lack of concentration, we took a break after 1-0, especially in the first half before the goal, we were just brilliant, we had 24-3 shots, that’s incredible but these two moments killed the game for us. … We were constantly dominant. It was a good game. Arsenal, they were there in two situations, I am not sure they forced them but they were there and they used them.”

Liverpool can now max out at 99 points if it beats Chelsea and Newcastle United to finish the season.

Premier League standings

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The Premier League is back a three month suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic. Below you will find a reminder of the Premier League standings as we get back to business.

[ MORE: Latest PL TV schedule ]

With three matchweeks remaining in the 2019-20 Premier League season, there is plenty to play for up and down the league and the standings are extremely tight.

Liverpool have wrapped up the Premier League in stunning fashion over Man City, with the reigning champions and current second-place side eager to focus on cup competitions.

Three of the top four should stay there unless Leicester City’s form dips considerably, but the race for fourth and fifth should be fierce. We now know that fifth is NOT a Champions League place after Man City’s appeal over its European ban was successful That makes things even tighter.

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There are still so many teams fighting for the Champions League and Europa League spot, with plenty of Premier League clubs still have their European hopes in the balance.

The action is going to come fast and often, with the league putting together a staggered schedule of kickoff times that will make matches even more of an all-weekend affair.

Below are the Premier League standings in full, as we will updated them throughout the remainder of the 2019-20 season.

PREMIER LEAGUE STANDINGS

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Liverpool 36 30 3 3 77 29 48 17-1-0 13-2-3 93
 Manchester City 36 24 3 9 93 35 58 14-2-2 10-1-7 75
 Chelsea 36 19 6 11 64 49 15 10-3-5 9-3-6 63
 Leicester City 35 17 8 10 65 36 29 10-4-3 7-4-7 59
 Manchester United 35 16 11 8 61 35 26 10-6-2 6-5-6 59
 Wolves 36 14 14 8 49 38 11 7-7-4 7-7-4 56
 Tottenham Hotspur 36 15 10 11 57 46 11 11-3-4 4-7-7 55
 Sheffield United 35 14 12 9 38 33 5 10-3-5 4-9-4 54
 Arsenal 36 13 14 9 53 45 8 9-6-3 4-8-6 53
 Burnley 36 14 9 13 40 48 -8 8-4-6 6-5-7 51
 Everton 35 12 9 14 41 52 -11 8-6-3 4-3-11 45
 Southampton 35 13 6 16 45 58 -13 5-2-10 8-4-6 45
 Newcastle United 36 11 10 15 37 55 -18 6-8-4 5-2-11 43
 Crystal Palace 35 11 9 15 30 45 -15 6-4-7 5-5-8 42
 Brighton & Hove Albion 35 8 12 15 36 52 -16 5-6-7 3-6-8 36
 West Ham United 35 9 7 19 44 59 -15 5-3-9 4-4-10 34
 Watford 35 8 10 17 33 54 -21 6-6-6 2-4-11 34

 Bournemouth 36 8 7 21 37 62 -25 5-6-7 3-1-14 31
 Aston Villa 35 8 6 21 38 65 -27 6-3-9 2-3-12 30
 Norwich City 36 5 6 25 26 68 -42 4-3-11 1-3-14 21