Fans flock to Cosmos’ “first game back”

The sold-out crowd was mostly in place at the start of the national anthem.
Photo by: CHRISTOPHER BOTTA / STAFF
“We’ll always be able to say we were at the first game back.”

That refrain was heard often Saturday night, during the New York Cosmos’ return to North American Soccer League action for the first time in almost 30 years. The setting was more modest than in the club’s heyday in the late 1970s and early ’80s, when it drew crowds of more than 70,000 at Giants Stadium. Still, the Cosmos’ “reboot” (the club’s preferred term in its promotional materials) was seen as a successful one.

Business at the Cosmos’ merchandise tent was brisk before, during and after the game.
Photo by: CHRISTOPHER BOTTA / STAFF
Bleacher-filled Shuart Stadium, on the campus of Hofstra University, was packed; the Cosmos announced a sellout crowd of 11,929. A brief opening ceremony that included former Cosmos stars Pelé and Carlos Alberto generated a loud standing ovation. Team jerseys (featuring the mark of sponsor Emirates Airline), T-shirts and soccer balls were flying off the merchandise shelves.

And oh, by the way, the Cosmos defeated the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, 2-1.

The game was telecast live on ONE
The supporters section, featuring about 300 fans in the Cosmos’ attacking zone in the first half, included groups The Borough Boys and The Five Points.
Photo by: CHRISTOPHER BOTTA / STAFF
World Sports, a service available on Google Fiber, Dish Network, Cablevision’s Optimum TV and Mediacom Communications. The network is producing the Cosmos’ seven home games in NASL’s fall season. But since many viewers in New York and New Jersey do not get ONE World Sports, the seven games also are being made available on SNY, which reaches more than 13 million homes. J.P. Dellacamera is the play-by-play announcer; Janusz Michallik is the analyst.

One advantage of having the games televised is that most of the local 11 p.m. news programs on Saturday
Cosmos TV announcers Janusz Michallik (left) and J.P. Dellacamera
Photo by: CHRISTOPHER BOTTA / STAFF
picked up coverage and showed highlights — important publicity for a club in a crowded New York market.

The challenge now facing the Cosmos will be getting fans to return to Hofstra for the team’s next home match, Aug. 24 against San Antonio, and for the ones after that. The NASL ranks a rung below MLS among U.S. soccer leagues; Shuart Stadium has little charm, few amenities and no videoboards for replays; and Pelé is not currently scheduled for an encore wave at a future match.

The novelty of fans being able to say they were at the first game back is over. As the club is well aware, the true test of the Cosmos’ reboot will be over the next three months.
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