We Got Pele: NY Cosmos And American Soccer Mania In The '70s

By Kellar Ellsworth
Left: Pele takes the field for the Cosmos. Right: the Pele lunchbox was a popular one in the late '70s. Source: (IMDB; hakes.com)

For a moment in the 1970s, Pelé and the New York Cosmos seemed capable of doing the impossible: turning America into a soccer-loving nation. Soccer isn't Americans' favorite sport, never has been, but Americans caught soccer fever when the greatest player in the world suited up for the biggest city. Attendance spiked, and Pelé was given the rock-star treatment in New York and wherever the Cosmos went to play. 

Pelé's signing didn't just draw a crowd; it also attracted other talent. Giorgio Chinaglia of Italy, Franz Beckenbauer of West Germany, and Carlos Alberto Torres of Brazil, all of whom played in the 1974 World Cup, joined Pele in New York. Additionally, Dutchman Johann Cruyff, the European "player of the century," signed with the Cosmos' rival squad, the Washington Diplomats, and Portuguese star Eusebio played a year for the Las Vegas Quicksilvers.

From 1975 to 1977 Pelé and the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League (NASL) turned a sport a precious few cared about into the toast of the town. For those two years, it seemed soccer might actually gain a foothold in the sports consciousness of Americans.