From An Ethnically Exclusive Soccer League to the Cosmopolitan Soccer League

In 1923 there was an ethnic centered German American Soccer League created in NYC comprised of five founding teams exclusively composed of German immigrants. A year later and the number of teams grew to nine. What was originally a diminutive league solely made up of German immigrants has now swelled into a league of 107 teams in 9 divisions that reflect the diversity of both NYC and the footballing world.

The Cosmopolitan Soccer League’s sustainability and illustrious past is incomparable in the U.S. While other leagues were stymied by lack of enthusiasm for the sport, the CSL was able to grow due to its location, foreign fervor, and its willingness to become an ethnically inclusive league. The CSL was even able to attract foreign professional talent due to political and economic oppression abroad. The diaspora Ukrainian club, New York Ukrainians -founded in 1947- is a notable recipient of foreign aid owing its three year 64’-66’ CSL championship run, its 69’ Manning Cup, and the National Challenge Cup in 65’ –now known as the Lamar Hunter U.S. Open Cup- to its foreign makeup.

The first professional American soccer league wasn’t established until the NASL’s inaugural season in 1968. So in 1962 the U.S. State Department chose the CSL’s New York Hungaria S.C. to represent the U.S. as they played an 11-match tour of the Middle East that ended without a single loss. Not only did the German American Football Association have teams tour abroad but also had international powerhouses such as Barcelona FC, Manchester United, Hamburg SV, and others play friendlies in NYC against CSL teams.

Since the creation of current professional soccer leagues in the US the CSL has lost a bit of its luster. Despite its semi-pro label General Secretary Bill Marth says that the CSL still has plenty of ties to professionalism, “Many CSL 1st division teams have at least some players who are registered as professional, which is permitted, and many top level teams have paid coaches.” The milieu of the CSL’s first division is primarily made up of athletes that have scholarship collegiate experience as well as one-time professionals who’ve played abroad, Marth adds that, “There are several players in the CSL, mostly in the 1st division, who were drafted by MLS teams.”

While the CSL may be technically an amateur league it does provide “proper playing fields, compensated players and coaches, a functioning and staffed office, and write up about the league in the media. In many ways the CSL, or at least the CSL 1st division has that,” says Marth.

Such quality is reflected in the league’s progression in the Lamar Hunt Open Cup where the CSL’s back-to-back champion, Lansdowne Bhoys has recently defeated the Long Island Rough Riders of the PDL in the first round only to follow it up with a 2-0 win against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds of the USL. However the label of ‘underdog’ is more a romantic misnomer than a fitting title. The club has a strong following that includes the likes of ESPN commentator Tommy Smyth who has even shouted out the club in recent televised matches including last year’s match between Ireland and England.

Lansdowne Bhoys before their second round U.S. Open Cup win against the Pittsburg Riverhounds.

Lansdowne Bhoys before their second round U.S. Open Cup win against the Pittsburg Riverhounds.

Led by their coach Austin Friel, 12-year professional veteran of the Irish leagues- the club has a seasoned professional coach who has the ability to bring in skilled talent such as Sean Kelly a onetime Arsenal U-23 youth product. Friel believes that, “We have talent on this squad and many of my guys can play in the USL on any team.” With such personnel and results it’s not wonder that Lansdowne has lofty aspirations, “The aim for the club is eventually in the next three years going to the USL,” says Friel. Lansdowne has a third round date with the mid-table Rochester Rhinos of the USL on June 1st. If they win that they’re likely to face an MLS club in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup.

A pool of athletes unmatched in other semi-pro leagues as well as a professional behind the scenes administrative presence set the CSL apart from other semi-pro leagues. However Bill Marth and other board members aren’t dizzy with complacency. The undertakings at hand include the amelioration of NYC pitches. Such an effort is evidenced by the multi-million dollar renovation at McCarran Park which will commence in 2017. The league can also boast that, “This past season, the CSL had over 10 teams [join] and is now up to 107 teams.” However the most exciting development centers around talk of creating a CSL All-Star team similar to the ones of old that will play mid-level foreign clubs.

CSL board members are not the only ones kicking the league forward. Clubs such as Central Park Rangers, Hoboken FC, Manhattan Kickers, and Beyond FC have recently created more teams within their clubs. Marth commends Beyond FC on its recent expansion and promotion into the second division. Marth also points out that, “Beyond FC is no longer just a team but a club, with a sponsor bar, club events, and the like. The best way to grow a club is to have a club culture where the players are not just guys playing a match on Sunday, but members of a club who have a vested interest in seeing the club grow. It seems Beyond FC is creating the club culture to sustain and continue to grow the club.”

With quality players in abundance and soccer fervor at an all time high the CSL looks set to continue to progress and better itself as the most prestigious and oldest soccer league in the U.S.