Born: 1995 – A-League expansion franchise.
Died: 1996 – Merged with New York Fever.
Stadium: Downing Stadium
Owner: Roger Gorevic
Grimy, decrepit Downing Stadium on Randall’s Island was the CBGB’s of New York City sporting venues. In 1975 – the same year that the Ramones, the Heartbreakers, Blondie and the Talking Heads were igniting the punk scene at Hilly Kristal’s dank nightclub in the Bowery – Downing Stadium was the home to the New York Cosmos at the seismic moment that Pele arrived in American to play for that iconic club. For American soccer enthusiasts of a certain age, Downing Stadium therefore conjures a kind of reflected glory and authenticity that is wholly unrepresentative of its brief, inadequate life as a pro soccer ground.
The Cosmos moved to Yankee Stadium in 1976 and by the end of 1977 they were packing 70,000+ into the newly opened Giants Stadium. But in the early 1980s it all came apart and the team was out of business by 1985. For more than a decade, New York City didn’t have an outdoor pro soccer club to call its own.
That changed in 1995 when a jeweler named Roger Gorevic purchased an expansion club in the A-League. The A-League was America’s top pro league for the moment, but it barely managed to scrape together six clubs to stage a 1995 season. And the future wasn’t any brighter. Major League Soccer was scheduled to launch the following year as America’s sanctioned 1st Division league which would consign the A-League to even deeper irrelevance.
Gorevic named his club the New York Centaurs and placed the team at Downing Stadium, with its crummy lighting, shoddy pitch and ancient row of bleachers. Maybe it was a fit of nostalgia for the Cosmos. (Midway through the season, Gorevic would replace original Centaurs head coach Len Roitman with former Cosmos star Vladislav Bogicevic). Or maybe it was just the only field available within the city limits. Either way, nobody wanted to go and most Centaurs matches in 1995 drew fewer than 1,000 fans.
Gorevic and Roitman’s polyglot club included Africans, Eastern Europeans, Middle Easterners, South Americans and homegrown players. The club finished in last place in the six-team A-League with a 6-18 record in 1995.
At the end of the year, Gorevic merged the New York Centaurs with a lower-level side named the New York Fever. They dropped the Centaurs name in favor of the New York Fever and returned to the A-League in 1996. After sitting out 1997, remnants of the club re-emerged as the Staten Island Vipers under Gorevic’s ownership in 1998 and 1999 before folding for good.