Credit: San Francisco Deltas

This is late in the writing, but I did want to write a few words on your faux-correspondent’s time at the NASL 2017 Championship Final in San Francisco.

A couple of things surprised me about that night at Kezar. Firstly, that I was there at all. I was in San Francisco on business that wee, and was literally landing as the semi-final with Miami was concluding. Naturally, BeIn Sports cut off just as we got to injury time. I had had the foresight to pick up tickets to the Deltas’ semi-final, and managed to arrive by the end of the first half – proudly wearing Cosmos colors. As the second half rolled on, it slowly began to dawn on me: the final was going to be IN SAN FRANCISCO. AND I WAS ALREADY HERE. It was a perfect self-referential metaphor: the Bonus Match to cap off the Bonus Year. “I guess we’ll be see you next week!’ an incredulous Deltas fan said. Indeed.

A Championship Final appearance by the Boys in Green, despite everything, was reward for the blood, sweat and tears all of Cosmos Country shed during this tumultuous past year. I was there to collect. Tickets were secured; local friends corralled into going despite being responsible parents of young kids; fans started connecting about getting out there on social media. It felt like it was all coming together.

I touched base with Five Points, journalist-bloggers and even some local fans; my second big surprise. In truth, I expected there to be maybe five fans flying the colors – myself included. But Cosmos Country is vaster than expected. Five or six made the transcontinental trip. but there were at least another fifteen or twenty left coast fans who made the trip. It made us all proud.

Before the match, we thought it fit and proper to make an appearance at Kezar Pub. A table for Cosmos supporters was set aside, and the Deltas supporters’ hospitality was superb. I don’t think I bought more than my first round. John Paul Motta, President of the United States Adult Soccer Association, chairman of USSF’s Referee Committee, and the only USSF board member to vote in favor of NASL retaining its Division 2 sanction, came by to chat and to to wish us luck.

Credit: @ThatCroatianGuy

If you’ve never been to Kezar Stadium, I recommend anyone with an interest in such things to take in a visit. People more knowledgeable than me can tell you more about the richness of sports history at the site, but what caught my attention was the architecture of the structure. It is decidedly old-school, with an open amphitheater-like design. When there are no matches, one can easily enter from any number of entrances simply to take in the space. It seats approximately ten thousand, and there really isn’t a bad seat in the house. Despite the track that surrounds the pitch, you are never far from the action. It’s an experience difficult to describe without some passing familiarity with lower-division sports; there’s an intimacy you get from this scale of venue that imparts a lot to the experience of a match. MCU Park is a similar experience as well, but you  sense a distinct gravitas (despite the football goals). I noticed it during the semifinal, and it was cemented in during the final game of the year when the stadium unexpectedly sold out in the final minutes and the roar of a full house was heard.

I won’t go into the particulars of the match itself. Our boys looked a little tired. Having seen it in person, Jimmy did not deserve that foul and subsequent penalty kick. It didn’t seem so at the time, but I was open to being wrong about it. Rewatching it several times did not change my opinion. It was a bad ref call. But still, our spirits stayed high throughout. Deltas fans continued to impress by coming over to thank us for showing their support and buying us rounds of beer. Cosmos office reps came by to thank us for attending, and gave out some hand flags so we can make more of a show of it.

Credit: The Five Points

Whether five or 150, the Five Points did us proud, giving it their best. While the match did not go the way we wanted to, there was much to commend on behalf of the Deltas. A commonly expressed thought as the night seemed to draw to a close: if a win helps the Deltas find stability, our loss would have been worth it. No one wishes to see a club, especially one who wins a championship in their inaugural year, go to ground.

Jimmy – wearing his Five Points scarf! – and Lucky came over to thank us for our support.

Credit: James Izurieta

Marc Dos Santos, Deltas head coach, was a class act and came over to shake ‘Mos supporters’ hands and extend his thanks for coming out. One of our party took the opportunity to remind Dos Santos that Brooklyn’s a great place to be, were the second-worst thing happen and Giovanni Savarese sought a role at a higher level elsewhere in the world (as surely is his right). That got a smile out of him as he went off to rejoin the pitch invasion party.

Credit: James Izurieta

Our Boys fought against improbable odds to come back and make one more Soccer Bowl appearance, but the Deltas had a well-deserved victory.

Credit: San Francisco Deltas

As things wound down and most of our group went home, someone with Erik Stover on his speed dial confirmed an invitation to the after-party. Before heading downtown to Fishermans Wharf, we stopped in at Kezar Pub to congratulate the Delta Force on their win and see them off. The Delta Force have some seriously amazing and insane guys, filled with a love of the game.

Credit: James Izurieta

I’m sure the Cosmos had hoped for a more celebratory after-party.  Erik Stover and others from the organization kept us company and stuffed us with food and drink. As the players trickled in to the restaurant’s back room, an understandable subdued tone was perceived. Everyone smiled at seeing us though, and many players came over to shake hands. Jimmy – the supporters’ player – spent most of the night chatting us up, and talking about the stark differences in experience from last year. It was clear that whereas last year the biggest Cosmos problem was inside the house, this year the biggest issues came from without. In some ways it added to the frustration; here the Cosmos had the unswerving backing of a dedicated patron and the benefits of a more shrewd operational management approach.

Moving to MCU was a positive in all ways for most, but it did mean re-establishing a fan base from near-scratch. and all the dogged, street team groundwork that entails. It was a rough year, with little tolerance for problems. A bad weather report in the third game in an entirely new venue relatively far from your last can feel like a lasting blow. The Cosmos ran into more than their fair share of tactical setbacks in 2017, but as the year reached September you began to have that uncomfortable suspicion that things may actually be on track.

I think most relocations require a three-year plan to build a fanbase, even under decent conditions. The showing coming out of year one was a significant attendance and sales improvement. For the first time, the Cosmos began to see local community support develop. Nothing highlighted this more than the expressions of support from leaders all across the city – from US Senator Chuck Schumer to various City Council members. NYC Public Advocate Tish James stood up for our Boys in Green. Even the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce came out for the Brooklyn Boys.

One could only imagine what an uninterrupted Year 3 might have seemed like. Jimmy alluded to the stark difference in emotions when – from a player’s perspective – you know your organization isn’t the problem, but that your own country’s soccer federation is. Having missed only one home game this season, and having worked hard to bring in new fans to the game, I felt on a visceral level the one-step back, two-steps forward experience that was the 2017 New York Cosmos. I can’t even imagine what that had been like for the hundreds of people whose paychecks, families’ benefits and some measure of stability were threatened by the politics and collusion of American soccer.

Thank you to the New York Cosmos for their amazing hospitality, and for making November 12th a memorable night for this Cosmos fan. The 2017 Championship Final, more than anything else I’ve done or seen, taught me what real American club soccer could be. From my first Cosmos match when I was four years old, to today; it’s been a hell of a trip.

Credit: Erik Stover

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