Homes Away From Home: Looking at Cosmos and Brooklyn Soccer History

Club historian Dr. David Kilpatrick details a handful of fleeting Cosmos home playing venues and digs into over a century of Brooklyn soccer history.
Dr. David Kilpatrick | Apr 28, 2015

By Dr. David Kilpatrick

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As the Cosmos prepare for the club’s debut in Brooklyn this Saturday at MCU Park, Coney Island, thoughts turn to other home-away-from-home games played in the club’s history as well as the heritage of soccer in the borough that was once the second-largest city in the country, before joining New York City in 1898.

The Cosmos’ home for the inaugural season of 1971 was Yankee Stadium, but two games were played elsewhere in a scheduling nightmare of a season that saw five matches postponed by the Yankees, whose lease with New York City allowed them to protect the field for baseball. One match against the St. Louis Stars was postponed twice before being played June 16. For an international doubleheader the Cosmos played at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City against the Dallas Tornado, followed by an international friendly featuring West Ham and Bologna. Down 1-0 at the half, the Cosmos battled back to beat Dallas 3-1.

Facing another scheduling conflict with the Yankees for a September 5 playoff match vs. Atlanta, the Cosmos opted to host at Hofstra. Although eliminated from the playoffs via a 2-0 scoreline, the club had won a fan base. Hempstead was home the next two seasons, before the Cosmos took up residency at Downing Stadium on Randall’s Island from 1974-75.

In 1976 the Cosmos returned to Yankee Stadium for the regular season. Despite the persistent threat of postponement for the sake of the baseball, all league games were played as scheduled that regular season, but the Cosmos once again faced a scheduling conflict for a home playoff match. Fortunately, New York City intervened and helped provide the Cosmos access to Shea Stadium (where the club had been trying to play for years) for the playoffs.

    

The 2-0 playoff win over the Washington Diplomats at Shea Stadium on August 17, 1976 (with goals from Pelé and Terry Garbett) was the only match the Cosmos ever played in Queens until the 2014 U.S. Open Cup match against the Brooklyn Italians at Belson Stadium on the campus of St. John’s University, another 2-0 victory. 

In a historic nightcap feature, the Cosmos B squad will make its National Premier Soccer League debut against the Brooklyn Italians in the second match of this Saturday's Coney Island doubleheader. Founded in 1949 and winners of the Open Cup in 1979 and 1991, the Brooklyn Italians are one of the most fabled sides in Kings County soccer lore, but that history goes back much further – to the late 19th century, prior to the borough joining New York City in 1898.

Brooklyn’s rich soccer legacy goes as far back as 1890, when the Brooklyn Cricket Club formed a team to play association football, making their debut that November 15 visiting the Cosmopolitan Association Football Club (the side nicknamed “Cosmos” in local newspapers) at Central Park with a 0-0 draw.  When they hosted the return match at the YMCA grounds in Brooklyn’s 26th Ward two weeks later, the Cosmos prevailed 3-0. 

In 1893, a war of words was waged in the pages of The Brooklyn Eagle between the Willoughby Club of Brooklyn and the Cosmos. The new but strong Ashland Athletic Club side featured William Burns, who had traveled with the Cosmopolitan side that represented the best footballers of New York against a Pennsylvania XI in the famous Thanksgiving Day match in Philadelphia that generated interest resulting in the first professional soccer league in the United States.

The American League of Professional Football Clubs' October 1894 launch was backed by the East Coast-based owners of National League baseball clubs, including a team representing New York at the Polo Grounds and another representing Brooklyn at Eastern Park. The league folded within two weeks, but the Brooklyn Wanderers were formed that December. By the 1920s the Wanderers had their own soccer-specific stadium at Hawthorne Field, though they would play prominent matches at Ebbets Field. 

Soccer was played frequently at Ebbets Field. On June 18, 1948, Liverpool played Sweden’s Djurgaden before 20,000 fans. Attendance that Friday night was more than double what the Dodgers drew earlier that afternoon against the Chicago Cubs.

Although the Dodgers left for Los Angeles after the 1957 season, Ebbets Field continued to host soccer.  Real Madrid capped off a world tour to celebrate the club’s fourth European Cup triumph with two matches at Ebbets Field in July 1959, beating Austria’s Graz 6-2 in their Brooklyn residency opener on July 15.  Ferenc Puskás scored a hat trick to pace Real Madrid to an 8-0 victory over a combined Graz/local-select squad on July 19, 1959.  Although eleven international soccer matches drew 114,000 fans to Ebbets Field that final year, the stadium was sold the last day of 1959 and demolished in February 1960.

It is perhaps fitting, then, that the leading goal scorer in Real Madrid history will follow in the footsteps of Puskás and Alfredo Di Stéfano. Raúl takes the pitch in Brooklyn with the Cosmos against Ottawa Fury FC this weekend. 

With the first NASL match in Brooklyn and the club’s first NPSL match, the Cosmos look forward to making history with Saturday night’s doubleheader at MCU Park, Coney Island.


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