Home to an array of global sporting brands, it’s difficult to imagine any new games and pastimes gaining a foothold in New York City or its surrounding regions. But during the last 50 years, soccer has gradually grown its market share alongside baseball, football, basketball and hockey.
The road has been far from smooth, with numerous setbacks along the way, but today the city and its surrounding region is home to two well-established clubs, each with its own distinct brand and target market.
In this article, we will chronicle that pathway and predict what the future might hold for the sport in one of the world’s most forward-looking cities.
The New York Cosmos
Although soccer had been played in the city previously, it was the arrival of the New York Cosmos in 1970 that helped put the city on the 11-a-side map. The club was founded by a group of business executives and music producers who saw the potential for the sport.
The team entered into the embryonic North American Soccer League and set about their pursuit of domestic dominance. At first, player recruitment was understated, with former English lower league player Gordon Bradley becoming their first signing.
From 1972, the team played matches from the Hofstra Stadium and their first league title soon followed. With Bradley as player coach, the team’s success continued, with games now also being held at Yankee Stadium.
Their brand was growing in stature, but it was about to get even bigger with the signature of Brazilian legend Pele, arguably the sport’s greatest ever player at the time. Pele was in the autumn of his career, but the publicity generated provided a major boost to the Cosmos.
Pele was followed by compatriot Carlos Alberto and the legendary Johan Cruyff, while Franz Beckenbauer was signed after captaining the West Germany team to World Club glory just three years earlier. But the retirement of Pele and the subsequent departure of their other big names saw revenue fall dramatically. With the League struggling for sustainability, the Cosmos’ days were numbered.
The Cosmos’ brand was eventually revived in 2010, with a team carrying the name competing in a new second-tier competition, but the true story of soccer’s growth in New York in the modern era lies elsewhere.
Johan Cruyff and Franz Beckenbauer in their New York Cosmos days. pic.twitter.com/KBuJcHuiir— These Football Times (@thesefootytimes) February 3, 2014
New York Red Bulls
The launch of the Major League Soccer competition, two years after the USA had hosted the World Cup, breathed new life into the sport and presented an opportunity for soccer in New York to thrive once again.
The New York/New Jersey Metrostars were a founder member of the new league, but, despite a tide of high-profile signings, the new team failed to make a major impression in the race for trophies.
In 2006, energy drinks giant Red Bull took ownership of the team and renamed it the New York Red Bulls, removing the New Jersey label. However, since 2010, the team has played matches out of a purpose-built arena in the heart of NJ.
These changes, coupled with a recent upturn in form from the Red Bulls that has seen them win the Supporters’ Shield on three occasions during the last ten years and helped provide a shot in the arm to sport in the New Jersey area, albeit under the label of New York.
– Bradley Wright-Phillips: 126— thesportsman (@TheSportsman) November 22, 2019
– Juan Pablo Ángel: 62
– Thierry Henry: 52
– Daniel Royer: 46
– Clint Mathis: 45
New York Red Bulls greatest ever goalscorer has left the #MLS club. pic.twitter.com/kFc7NtugtY
New York City
The Red Bulls have more recently been joined in the league by New York City, who have naturally become major on-field rivals. But while they may not see eye-to-eye across the 90 minutes, it is undoubtedly seen as a welcome development for the wider sport.
Backed by the global City Football Group, and playing matches at Yankee Stadium, the Boys in Blue have helped further entrench soccer as a part of the Big Apple’s sporting conscience, while also providing more opportunities for fans to watch live matches.
The growth of the sport in one of the world’s most influential cities, coupled with the overall growth of the MLS, has helped underpin the national team’s emergence as a force on the world stage. The USMNT are now comfortably within the top 32 nations in football betting markets ahead of 2022’s World Cup.
And from the heady heights of signing the world’s best players to the establishment of two elite level teams, the journey of soccer in New York has certainly been eventful. But it appears the stage is now finally set for the sport to take some impressive strides forward in the years ahead.