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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.

Man Utd set to add $20m Swans winger James

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Manchester United’s first signing of the summer will be a Welsh international forward, but not that one, presuming the clubs sort out the transfer fee.

Swansea City winger Daniel James has agreed to terms with United, according to Sky Sports.

The 21-year-old is expected to cost Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s men about $20 million.

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James scored five times with 10 assists for Graham Potter in all competitions this season, totaling 2800 minutes for Swans.

Only Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish was fouled more per game than James, who was taken to the turf 2.7 times per match. He mostly played on the left wing this season.

Twice-capped by Wales, James turns 22 in November. How long will it take him to make the jump from Championship star to Premier League contributor?

Martinez names Kompany in Belgium squad

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Roberto Martinez is going to suit up a manager as Belgium fights to qualify for EURO 2020.

Okay, okay, that manager is Anderlecht player-manager Vincent Kompany, mere days removed from sealing a domestic treble for Manchester City.

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Kompany, 33, has been called up by Belgium for the first time since November. He has 87 caps with four goals for the Red Devils, and perhaps the nickname will be a little less awkward now that he’s not a member of the Premier League’s “noisy neighbors.”

Here’s what Martinez had to say about Kompany’s inclusion.

“In modern football it is not easy to combine the job of player and coach,” Martinez added. “In England they have a tradition of that but less and less because the job of coach has become enormously demanding. We must give him time. We will support him in everything he does.”

Belgium is in a qualifying group with Russia, Cyprus, Scotland, Kazakhstan, and San Marino, and should waltz into the tournament.

USMNT dates to host Cuba, Canada revealed

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MIAMI (AP) The United States will host Cuba on Oct. 11 and Canada on Nov. 15 in the first CONCACAF Nations League.

CONCACAF said Tuesday that the Americans, seeded in Group A, will play at Canada on Oct. 15 and at Cuba on Nov. 19.

Sites have not been determined.

Other Nations League groups are:

B – Bermuda, Mexico, Panama

C – Martinique, Honduras, Trinidad and Tobago

D – Costa Rica, Curacao, Haiti

The top team in each League A group advances to the semifinals in March, and the last-place team is relegated to League B.

The U.S. intends to play exhibitions on the September FIFA dates for national teams.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Five players Man United should sign

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Manchester United need a massive rebuild this summer.

Everybody knows it.

Their manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward have both spoken publicly about their desire to strengthen the squad, with Solskjaer aiming to bring in young, hungry players to the club. Something drastic has to change.

But which five players should United make their top targets this summer as they aim to push their way back into the top four of the Premier League?

Even though United have been through struggles in recent seasons, the allure of playing for one of the most popular clubs on the planet and dragging them back to the top of the game will attract plenty of players. So too will the fact that United’s finances allows them to pay top dollar.

Here’s a look at five players they have to sign this summer to complete the dramatic rebuild they need.


Joao Felix (Benfica, release clause of $133 million)
The 19-year-old attacking midfielder will provide goals and assists and he has shone in Portugal. The last time United were off the pace a little in the PL, they plucked a bright young talent from Portugal called Cristiano Ronaldo. That worked out pretty well. Felix may never reach Ronaldo’s heights, but the fact Man City and Real Madrid want to sign him says it all.


Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham, release clause of $32 million)
Doesn’t really fit into the “young and hungry” category, but the Belgian defender would add a steadying influence to United’s defense. At 30 years old Alderweireld is set for one big final pay day in his career and that is why he has such a small release clause in his contract after Spurs had to trigger a one-year extension. His displays for Spurs over the past few years have been consistency excellent.


Harry Maguire (Leicester, valued at $100 million)
At 26 years old Maguire is still to enter his prime. That is wild considering how well he has played for Leicester and England over the past two seasons. He almost joined United last summer but decided to stay at Leicester, and another great season has soon his value rise by $25 million. Maguire and Alderweireld at center back would be a great partnership, but it is likely only one of them will arrive. Maguire is more expensive but would be a long-term purchase.


Declan Rice (West Ham, valued at $60 million)
His meteoric rise has seen him become a star for West Ham and make his England debut. Shows so much poise in the holding midfield role and if Rice, still just 20 years old, arrived then it could help Paul Pogba out as he will win the ball back and feed the Frenchman in good areas. West Ham will reluctantly sell, and Rice should be a top priority to shield United’s shaky defense.


Aaron Wan-Bissaka (Crystal Palace, valued at $60 million)
Ashley Young has been handed a one-year extension and Antonio Valencia is leaving, so United are looking a little weak at right back. Wan-Bissaka, 21, has been sublime for Crystal Palace and is a solid defender as well as adding an attacking presence. Palace will be reluctant to sell both AWB and Wilfried Zaha in the same summer, which could be an issue. Right back is an area where United need to strengthen. Now.