Flashes of the old Cosmos in a potential deal with David Beckham

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David Beckham. (MLSSoccer.com)
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As the New York Cosmos, namesake of the North American Soccer League team of the 70s and 80s, prepare to return to the field in 2013 as a possible steppingstone to joining Major League Soccer, their primary opponent will be the legacy of the Cosmos themselves.

The 1970s Cosmos played to sold out Giants Stadium crowds by deploying Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and other stars. The 2013 Cosmos will be playing with second-tier talent, in a second-tier league, at Hofstra University.

That's not a criticism. The original Cosmos actually played at Hofstra early in their original incarnation, while Pele and others didn't sign on for years. And the new Cosmos, by starting small and attempting to grow the club from there, will be trying to follow the successful, patient formula of Major League Soccer, which has essentially been the opposite of the go-big-and-die NASL.

Or at least that's how it looked before this weekend, when the team announced that it was in talks with David Beckham to become a player/owner, with a possible deal by Christmas.

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The immediate benefit of adding Beckham to the mix is clear. The Cosmos have a 13,000-seat venue to fill at Hofstra. If the New York Red Bulls have struggled to draw at gleaming Red Bull Arena, playing in the top tier of American soccer and featuring Thierry Henry and others, convincing soccer fans to come out to Long Island for second-tier soccer wasn't going to be an easy sell.

A Beckham-led Cosmos team means fans making the trip have more than a logo to go see; there's a curiosity on the field that is likely to make them want to stay and watch, then return.

The N.A.S.L. has no salary cap, unlike M.L.S., so Beckham's addition wouldn't preclude them from signing other players as well. Nor is the N.A.S.L. likely to complain about the traveling boost to attendance that would be any games Beckham plays on the road.

The attendance boost would feed into the long-term Cosmos goals, too. Though the Cosmos organization hasn't officially said that its goal is to join M.L.S., they appear to be setting themselves up to follow in the recent trend of teams to pass through N.A.S.L. on their way to the American majors:. The Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers and others, in recent years, played in the second tier of U.S. soccer, and built a fan base there, prior to making successful transitions to M.L.S. The idea is that a team with a built-in infrastructure and fan base is likelier to succeed in M.L.S. than a team starting from nothing.

The Timbers, for example, drew an average of 10,727 fans in their final season playing at second-tier in 2010. They've averaged a full-capacity crowd in their two seasons in M.L.S. since making the jump, and even drew better than 14,000 fans earlier this year for a reserve game.

Considering the impact Beckham had in bringing legitimacy to M.L.S. back when he signed with the Los Angeles Galaxy, and the relationships he still has with the league's power brokers, having Beckham as part of the ownership group would presumably improve the odds of a Cosmos-M.L.S. marriage.

Getting Beckham will presumably improve the team on the field, too. But, as was the case when the old N.A.S.L. teams brought in past-their-prime superstars to fill seats and establish instant credibility, that may be beside the point.