It's not a stretch to describe the New York Cosmos as an American equivalent of the Beatles.
The Fab Four left an indelible mark in music through 12 iconic albums that John, Paul, George, and Ringo produced in a mere ten years' time, while the first incarnation of the Cosmos left a lasting imprint on American sports that still captures the hearts and minds of those who saw them play -- despite the club's existence spanning a meager 15 years and only three with legendary Brazilian playmaker Pelé in the fold.
So when the second coming of the Cosmos kick off as the first American club to play at Old Trafford against the iconic English Premier League side Manchester United, please forgive them for borrowing another page from the Beatles' playbook.
At their essence, the Beatles effectively engaged in the musical equivalent of money laundering -- they took a distinct American musical form in rock 'n roll, gave it a haircut, and sent it back to America as their own creation.
Meanwhile, the Cosmos will take another distinctly American phenomenon (themselves) to England, the birthplace of soccer. They'll authenticate themselves by fielding a side of EPL soccer stars -- including former Man U captain Gary Neville, American striker Brian McBride, and French midfielder Patrick Vieira -- that's led by another former Red Devils captain in Eric Cantona against one of the premier soccer clubs in the world.
And after the final whistle blows on the Paul Scholes Testimonial Match, the Cosmos will head back to America to reintroduce themselves as the next big thing in American soccer.
For the second coming of a soccer club whose greatest success was producing the sporting equivalent of Beatlemania, the Cosmos know they need more than a star-studded exhibition at a historic soccer stadium to recapture those New York hearts and minds again. They still have a very long way to go before Major League Soccer will embrace American soccer's prodigal son.
Until they uncover the combination of form and finances that MLS deems suitable, the Cosmos are left to prepare for their first high-profile competitive match in 27 years by reiterating the style that the club has established in its Academy efforts.
"We are exactly the same way that we ask our academy teams to play," said Cosmos Academy director Giovanni Savarese. "There’s nothing different that’s been what we’ve been trying to install with our academy, which is educating soccer. Our system is no other than 4-3-3, but every system is a good place to start and then adapt to the game that you’re playing and the team you’re playing against. We’re trying to have a team that has a lot of movement, can shoot the ball the right way, and have entertaining soccer."
Savarese knows the demands of creating entertaining soccer in New York as well as anyone. After a decorated college career at Long Island University, the Venezuelan forward was drafted in the 9th round of the MLS Inaugural Player Draft by the NY/NJ MetroStars (now the New York Red Bulls). Despite playing only three seasons at the Meadowlands, Savarese became the MetroStars' all-time leading scorer with a still-standing record of 44 goals -- the first of which was the first in MetroStars history.
Just as he himself came of age playing soccer in New York City, Savarese now works to develop the talent that will become the hallmark of the new Cosmos.
"Any successful organization is able to develop the players to play for the first team," said Savarese. "We don’t want to be a team only built by players from all over the world. We welcome every player, but we want to make sure we have homegrown talent and we’re willing to develop them and make them grow and we’ll add anything we need to make it exciting and make it good. We want people not to come for names. We want people to come to watch good players and a good team that’s trying to entertain them in a good way."
A sextet of that homegrown talent made the trip across the Atlantic in part to recognize their Academy accomplishments and in part to provide a taste of what's to come for the Cosmos.
The names of Ibrahim Diaby, an 18-year-old midfielder and current student at Martin Luther King, Jr. High School in Manhattan, or 19-year-old Cosmos Academy West standout Marvin Iraheta may not yet grab the headlines like Pelé or Cantona, but they'll be on the sideline soaking in this experience and studying it for future reference.
Ultimately, that experience is the takeaway for what will appear to some as a brand-conscious Cosmos club fielding a Harlem Globetrotters-like side against Manchester United. When the final whistle blows on Friday and the soccer spotlight shines elsewhere, these Cosmos, unlike their forefathers, understand what it will take to get back to where they once belonged in the American soccer pantheon.
"We continue working," said Savarese. "This is just one step to what we’re trying to do. We continue to try and build the academy, finding more players. We’ll continue to have more international matches. We have to build a stadium. In the meantime, while we’re waiting to hopefully be accepted to participate in MLS, in that time, we’re still building up a team that will be playing for that. We’ll continue working."
Will they work it out? The Cosmos start finding out Friday.
We have to build a stadium.