Rocco B. Commisso: “I can go into a lot of stuff and I’m going to talk about but not today. There are a lot of people out there who still want to shut me down.” (Michael Lewis/FrontRowSoccer.com Photo)
By Michael Lewis
Front Row Soccer Editor
BROOKLYN — The man who righted the Cosmos ship made some major waves Tuesday, rocking the American soccer boat and then some.
Cosmos owner Rocco B. Commisso, in no particular order, took on promotion-relegation between leagues, Major League Soccer, the quality soccer fan environment at Yankee Stadium, and the inability of the U.S. men to win at the World Cup through the years, among over topics.
In other words, he stole the show on Cosmos media day at the 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge.
Demonstrating much swagger, the 66-year-old Commisso was not in the mood of building any bridges with the powers that be in U.S. soccer, but rather speaking his mind as the two-time defending North American Soccer League champions introduced its kit sponsor and players for the upcoming season that kicks off at Puerto Rico FC Saturday night.
“People in this industry know I have a lot of voice,” he said of his job as chairman and CEO of Mediacom Communications . “Even though I have a lot of voice, nobody has been able to shut me down at my age. Everyone else is gone, but I’m still around. So I plan to do my bidding at the right time, to project my club, to protect my investment, to protect my players and everybody who works for the Cosmos.”
Commisso, who saved the Cosmos from extinction when he became majority owner of the failing franchise over the winter, set his sights on MLS and pro\rel. MLS commissioner Don Garber said that his league would never split into a first and second division, primarily because owners agreed to invest $100 million-plus each to play in the top professional soccer league in the states.
Not surprisingly, Commisso wants the U.S. to get in line with the rest of the world — now.
While answering a question about when MLS would add promotion-relegation, Commisso replied, “I think Don Garber said 20 years down the road. I’m going to be dead in 20 years. OK?”
He then brought up the recent investors in Europe, which included men and women from China, Indonesia, England the U.S.
“They all understood how the game is played,” he said. “Nobody guaranteed them [a spot in the first division]. As a result of making multi-millions of investments, the guys trying. They might get relegated tomorrow. Typically, when you go into business like I do you accept competition as being part of the game. You have to compete.”
Which brought Commisso to MLS, a single-entity league in which all clubs are required to meet stringent salary-cap and complicated player acquisition regulations
“Here, competition is administered, by some god up there who says, it is what it is and that’s the way it’s going to be. Garber said 20 years. I said, ‘Look, I’m not ready to wait that long.’ I’m sure within 24 hours all the shotguns are going to be after me.”
Commisso noted that both owners of the MLS New York-named teams, the Red Bulls and NYC FC, are not from the area or this country. The Red Bulls are owned by Red Bull magnate owner Dietrich Matschietz, City by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who also owns Manchester City (England).
“It’s not the guys for the most part who grew playing soccer,” he said.
Red Bull also owns two other teams, Red Bull Salzburg and Red Bull Leipzig, the latter in the Bundesliga in Germany. The Leipzig club moved up from the third to first division.
“So he’s accepting and he’s done very well,” Commisso said. “So, it worked out very well. Why can’t it work the same way here? Why? My opinion, my very strong opinion, that’s probably the No. 1 reason why American soccer has failed professionally in this country. It’s an administered game, an Americanized-type of game, with American rules as opposed to the international rules, [how] soccer should be played.”
He then brought up Minnesota United FC, which competed in the NASL last year before paying $100 million to join MLS. United’s introduction to the league has been a difficult learning curve as it was outscored by an astounding 11-2 margin in its first two matches.
“They bid a $100 million and another $150 million for the stadium, Minneapolis got to MLS,” he said. “Well, the Cosmos won the championship. In other countries, all over Europe, South America, the Cosmos should be moving up to MLS, not Minneapolis. I think Minneapolis was the eighth ranked team in the NASL last year out of 12. We were No. 1.”
Actually, Minnesota finished eighth in the fall season and fifth overall.
Commisso then took aim at the U.S. men’s national team and its history of struggling at World Cups despite playing there for more than eight decades.
“The peak of American soccer in America was not today. It was 1930. the only time when America made it to the semifinals of the World Cup,” he said. “Does anybody know that? Here we are, 80 years later and we still haven’t had a team, a professional team, a professional national team that could say, ‘we’re in the top 10, top five.’ I mean, what kind of crap is that?
“We have all these little kids, all these parents running around trying to do their best to make sure their kids either become soccer players or get scholarships to one of the big schools, right? Today, we do not have a national team that I am proud of and given who America is. Why do we have a semifinalist in 1930 and nothing since?”
Commisso was not finished as he brought the U.S. national team into the discussion.
“Another statistic. There have been all kinds of World Cups. Do you know how many games America has since 1930 in the World Cup competition? Six games,” he said. “That’s one game every 14 years. I did the counting. And everybody’s bragging what a great job that we’re all doing with America soccer. No, we’re not doing a great job.
“I can go into a lot of stuff and I’m going to talk about but not today. There are a lot of people out there who still want to shut me down.”
The Cosmos owner finally got to a subject that has been the bane of the team’s existence since 2013 — the lack of a soccer-specific stadium in the area. The club put in a proposal with New York state about building such a structure, a privately financed, $450 million, 25-000-seat soccer-specific stadium at Belmont Park in Elmont.
Commisso sounded as though he would be willing to finance or co-finance the project either with the city or with New York City FC, the third-year Major League Soccer side that plays at Yankee Stadium.
“New York City needs a venue where soccer can be played,” he said. “I have been watching two games at Yankee Stadium. What the hell is going on here? The 30-yard-line, you can’t even see the fans there. You see them on the other side. That’s the bleachers. I see more advertising than fans, where the camera angle is positioned. That’s not the way soccer should be watched. OK?
“Somebody in the city should wake up and say, ‘New York City really needs a soccer-specific venue’ and I will be part of that process, together or alone, with the other team that may be in New York.”
The Cosmos will begin their spring season at a baseball part of their own in this borough April 1. Not surprisingly, Commisso touted his 7,500-seat, artificial-turf stadium that is home to the minor-league Class A Brooklyn Cyclones.
He noted that the brown infield that was used when the team played twice there in 2015, will be green as the rest of the field and that there will be soccer lines.
“Unlike Yankee Stadium, because the end of the field will be over home plate, the corner flag, as opposed to the way it is at Yankee Stadium, where the field doesn’t cross the pitching line,” Commisso said.
The fans will be closer to the action, at least around home plate and down the right field line.
“Because we have only one level of stands you will find that all our fans will be on top of the game,” he said. “There will not be too many areas where you can’t the game as if you’re playing the game yourself. We’re very pleased that we’re playing the game at MCU.”
When asked about his time frame to build a stadium for the Cosmos, Commisso replied, “I think I’ve said it more than once. I don’t know what the hell is going to happen tomorrow. I think eventually we will have a long-term strategy to be announced when I’m ready to announce it. How’s that? That could take three years, it could take a month. Give me time. Let me get my feet wet. I told the guys, don’t give me too much time. Then I’m going to learn more than you and then I’m not going to need you.”
Commisso, as it turned out, was just getting warmed up about taking on other aspects of U.S. soccer
“I’m going to go into this,” he said. “Give me time, later on.”
Afterwards, someone mentioned that Commisso was not kidding and would expand on his comments in the near future.