Out of Bounds: A cosmic revival in New York soccer

Starting with a close-up of a soccer ball, the camera slowly zooms out and reveals a silhouette shrouded in smoke. While a faint drum roll crescendos, one begins to wonder how a prospective Major League Soccer franchise could have possibly recruited the Dos Equis guy for an endorsement. Reality sets in and the camera hits the illuminated face of a man who removes his cigar and states, "We are back."

He is Eric Cantona, former Premier League stud (and current quasi-actor), and the video is the first thing every visitor to the New York Cosmos website is forced to watch. And while Cantona's commercial stint is a bit overdone, it effectively gets people wondering: what is going on with the Cosmos?

For all you non-avid soccer fans, the New York Cosmos was part of the North American Soccer League (now Major League Soccer) from 1971 to 1984. The team spearheaded an exponential growth in American soccer, quickly transforming the game from its struggling, under-the-radar state to an exciting and even glamorous sport. The main proponent of this revolution was Brazilian phenom Pelé, who signed with the Cosmos in 1975 and played three seasons. Stunning the nation with his brilliant and entertaining style of play, Pelé transcended the typical power-athlete role and became an American hero.

Naturally, Pelé has been appointed honorary president of the revived Cosmos, and the rest of the staff is star-studded (in the soccer world, that is): Cantona has been named Director of Soccer; Paul Kemsley, former Vice Chairman of top-tier Premier League team Tottenham Hotspur, has been elected Chairman; and all-time U.S. National team caps leader Cobi Jones has been established as Assistant Director of Soccer.

Signing all these big names has certainly granted the revival team some recognition. Major media outlets from Washington Post to CNN to ESPN.com are helping give the Cosmos some national steam. What ultimately matters, though, is whether or not the MLS awards the team a franchise. The league currently hosts 19 teams, with new acquisitions Vancouver Whitecaps FC and Portland Timbers to start play in 2011 and a Montreal club to premier in the 2012 season. As the existing expansion goal of the MLS is to reach 20 teams by the 2012 season, the Cosmos will potentially have to battle other prospective expansion teams for the final slot.

Luckily, the Cosmos have some advantages over other impending up-and-comers such as Miami or Detroit:

1.  Location. You can't beat New York as a venue to attract fans. And unlike the New York Red Bulls, an MLS team that plays in New Jersey, the Cosmos are intent on "bring[ing] the soccer dream back to the city," Cosmos executive director Joe Fraga told The New York Times.

2. Youth Programs. The Cosmos currently host two successful youth soccer academies in partnership with Queens and Los Angeles programs. Helping kids… now there's a good way to gain support.

3. Famous people. Let's face it, fans probably favor an expansion team headed by Pelé over, say, the Detroit team's main advocate, Andreas Apostolopoulos. Wait, who?

4. Legacy. The MLS's decision to award the Cosmos a franchise may come down to whether or not the new Cosmos can promise to be as eminent as the beloved Cosmos from years past. In 1977, Pelé's farewell game drew audience members like Muhammad Ali and Henry Kissinger. Today, one of the most notable star appearances at an MLS game was Kobe Bryant, who arguably could have been lost on his way to Staples Center and happened to wind up at an LA Galaxy match. The revived Cosmos need to convince the MLS that they will turn the league on its head and bring it the recognition it once had in America.

They've got Pelé. They've got the location. They've got the legacy. They even have an alluring commercial featuring the stud Eric Cantona himself. Now all they need to do is get the MLS on board.