Up until this past week, the New York Cosmos have mostly been an interesting footnote to everything that has been going on in the world of North American soccer ever since the founding of MLS. Once just a sort of boogeyman that the league's founders used as a way of cautioning against excess, the famous New York team that once boasted one of the world's most star-studded lineups was eventually reborn, but really only as a brand exercise. Even after the team officially started playing games last year -- in the much lower-profile offspring of the original NASL -- the Cosmos were never taken all that seriously by the soccer establishment.
That may have started to change after last week's MLS SuperDraft shenanigans surrounding Vancouver Whitecaps pick Andre Lewis. The Whitecaps drafted the highly regarded Jaimaican youth international with the No. 7 overall pick. At the time, it was considered a value pick, as the 19-year-old was projected to go much higher.
But a day later, the Cosmos were the ones trumpeting his signing. Was this all a colossal misunderstanding or had the Cosmos actually managed to sign a promising young player from under the nose of MLS?
Over the next few days, the story started to become clear. Yes, Lewis had, in fact, attended the MLS Combine, but had not signed a contract. Yes, the Whitecaps were aware that Lewis was not yet signed. Yes, they could still have him if they wanted him, and an agreement had already been worked out between MLS and the Cosmos. In the end, the Whitecaps would have the option of taking Lewis on a loan -- yes a loan -- from the presumably lower-division Cosmos.
It probably wasn't the end of the world. Lewis hadn't really circumvented the draft. The Cosmos hadn't actually "stolen" a player from MLS. The Whitecaps could still get the player they wanted, albeit probably at a more expensive price than they had preferred, and if not for the whole Camilo situation this would not have seemed like all that big of a deal.
But taking the Whitecaps' involvement out of this, there's still an interesting narrative at work here: The Cosmos made effectively themselves an entity that had to be confronted. There's no way around this, but the Cosmos put themselves in headlines all around the soccer world as the victors in a fight with MLS. They got a promising young talent under contract while allowing him to potentially develop on someone else's roster. It's the kind of thing "big" clubs do all the time.
No, it wasn't the kind of fight that, in and of itself, is a huge deal, but it is the kind of little battle upon which bigger battles are eventually waged. What if the Cosmos had signed a couple players in the draft? What if they had signed a couple not-quite-Designated Players that would have otherwise joined MLS? What if they keep doing this over and over again?
By themselves, the Cosmos are not going to make life difficult for the entire entity of MLS. But what they can do is make life more difficult for a few clubs while scoring some PR points. And assuming the Cosmos can ever get their state-of-the-art stadium built, this kind of thing is only going to become more commonplace.
The good news is that while this might be bad for MLS, if even only on a case-by-case basis, it has the potential to be very good for American soccer fans. Moves like this are going to force MLS to be more transparent, to spend more money and to allow its teams to have more autonomy. In the end, we'll all hopefully be getting a better product.