The legendary New York Cosmos return to competitive action for the first time in nearly three decades on Saturday, throwing down the gauntlet in a new American soccer war.
The side that set the soccer world alight when it boasted the likes of Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and Johan Neeskens is making a more humble bid to get back into the sporting limelight now.
A Cosmos team featuring World Cup heros Pele and Beckenbauer once drew 77,691 people -- a record for a North American club game -- to a 1977 playoff clash against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. In a twist of fate, the Strikers will again be the opponents Saturday and Pele is in town and says he feels "emotional" about the Cosmos' return. But this time a crowd of 10,000 at the Hofstra University stadium in the New York suburbs will be considered a good start by Seamus O'Brien who is masterminding the Cosmos' rise from the ashes.
The Cosmos chairman was founder of Singapore-based World Sports Group, a major sports promotion firm behind football, golf and cricket events across Asia.
O'Brien admitted he broke his own rules when he agreed in 2011 to pick up the Cosmos challenge.
"I have always said that if anybody ever hears that I am going to buy a sports team, take me outside, whip me, beat me, threaten to shoot me, bring me back in and say: 'do you want to think about that again,'" he told AFP.
The Cosmos had been defunct since 1984 when the old North American Soccer League collapsed. It has been at the centre of a series of financial soap opera bids to get the team running again.
But O'Brien agreed and the Cosmos will be playing again in the reborn North American Soccer League, which currently lives in the shadow of Major League Soccer, the headline US championship.
The chairman says he has a five-to-10 year plan to make the Cosmos successful, but do not expect immediate miracles.
"We have 28 guys who three months ago had never met each other," said O'Brien. Coach Giovanni Savarese "has got what it takes and he's got a budget and he is assembling a team." Savarese told how the Cosmos signed their first player, Carlos Mendes, in December.
"Right now we are very satisfied. It is a group of players that understand very well the history of the club and they are committed to the first match," he said.
But O'Brien insists that he and Saudi Arabian partner Mohiedin Kamel are not injecting $100 million into the Cosmos for "an ego trip."
"Are we going to throw stupid money at stuff? No, absolutely not. Will we push the boat out if we think it is going to help our business at the right time? Absolutely yes. We are not interested in losing hundreds of millions in a sort of vanity chase to win something," he declared.
On Saturday, Pele will be Cosmos honorary president but on the pitch, the Cosmos star draw will be Marcos Senna, now 37, who played for Spain in the 2006 World Cup finals.
Savarese's cosmopolitan squad also includes Satoru Kasiwase, 20, the youngest Japanese player to sign for an American team.
He says he expected to be away from his country for a one month loan but Shimizu S-Pulse have extended to one year.
O'Brien acknowledges that New York is a "the toughest" city in the world to get the entertainement dollar out of the public that has eight professional sports teams to choose from as well as Broadway and host of other temptations.
The New York Red Bulls with Thierry Henry are already considered the city's number one soccer team. And the competition intensified in June when the MLS awarded its 20th franchise to English Premier League club Manchester City in alliance with the New York Yankees.
O'Brien says that even if the Manchester-Yankees New York City FC gets off the ground as planned in 2015, the city still has room for three clubs.
"I am not remotely worried about Manchester City in New York. Red Bulls no. If we all do our job well, soccer really will grow," he said.
The chairman considers his job to get the funds to build the team and finance a possible move to a 25,000 seat stadium at the Belmont Park race track.
On top of the hunt for season ticket holders, O'Brien and Kamel are also partners in a sports television channel.
"Sport is not about how good you are. Its not about how wonderful your history or your legacy or your stadiums are. It is about the ability of the economy to pay for it and the desire of the consumer to do so," he said. tw/bb