Wednesday, June 12 2024

Pelé’s last appearance with the New York Cosmos was a catalyst for a “sports revolution” throughout North America.

Estimated read time 12 min read

CNN  — 

Pele had achieved three World Cup victories, countless goals, and international fame, but he still had more to accomplish. He then decided to move to the United States and played a role in revolutionizing the popularity of soccer in North America.

In 1975, the legendary Brazilian player was persuaded to end his retirement and join the New York Cosmos for three additional seasons.

Prior to joining the North American Soccer League (NASL), Pelé had retired from his professional career after playing 638 games for his childhood team Santos.

It seemed unlikely that Pelé would leave Santos to play for another team, but in the middle of the 1975 season, he signed a contract with the Cosmos for $1.67 million per year. This was a bold move, as soccer was not very popular in North America at the time.

Pele arrived, witnessed, and triumphed, and when he departed in 1977 as “The King,” he was a champion in the NASL and had played a key role in igniting a surge of interest in soccer.

“After his passing this week, the Cosmos stated that Pelé played a crucial role in revolutionizing the local scene of soccer during his three seasons with the team.”

“Where there were once baseball fields, there are now soccer fields as well.”

“The Cosmos and their leader not only sparked a sports revolution in America, but also journeyed across the globe to share the message of the Beautiful Game.”

The Brazilian speaks to then US President Jimmy Carter at the White House in 1977.


Even after nearly five decades, Pelé’s impact continues to be significant in both men’s and women’s soccer in North America.

His transfer to Cosmos opened doors for other notable players like Giorgio Chinaglia and Franz Beckenbauer to also join the team. Although the NASL eventually ceased operations in 1984, it served as a model for the creation of Major League Soccer (MLS) in 1993.

Famous players like David Beckham, Gareth Bale, Thierry Henry, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic have emulated Pelé’s example by contributing to the growth of the sport in North America through their participation in the MLS.

Pelé opened the door for more superstars to play in the US.

The sport of soccer has seen significant growth in the US, as evidenced by the impressive performance of the US National Men’s Team at the Qatar 2022 World Cup.

Scouts from across the world are now looking at North America to discover new talent, with the sport cemented into the fabric of society and being naturally passed down through generations.

In the 1970s, Pelé’s innate talent and contagious smile played a significant role in paving the way for early progress.

During Qatar 2022, CNN correspondent Don Riddell interviewed fans about Pelé, with one American individual stating that the soccer icon had a significant impact on his life.

Clifton Broumand shared with CNN that observing him play in 1975 marked the beginning of his exposure to professional games and has been a contributing factor to his attendance at 11 World Cups.

His skills and talent captivated me, drawing me to watch soccer and the World Cup.

Pelé lifts the NACL trophy after winning the title in his last season in the US.

Before Pelé joined Santos in 1975, the highest recorded attendance for a Cosmos match was just over 8,000 people.

According to the Society for American Soccer History, during his last and most victorious season in 1977, the average audience for home games was 42,689, with three instances of over 70,000 in attendance.

At the age of 34, Pelé joined the Cosmos and scored 37 goals in 64 NASL matches.

According to a statement from MLS Commissioner Don Garber, Pelé’s choice to showcase his skills with the New York Cosmos during the 1970s had a significant impact on the sport’s development in the United States.

Pelé’s impressive performance in the US and Canada captured the attention of fans, showcasing the immense impact and potential of the sport.

Beacon of light

Clive Toye, the inaugural General Manager of the Cosmos, played a crucial part in recruiting the sport’s biggest superstar to the team at the time.

As a former journalist, Toye played a significant role in the establishment of the NASL. He had a vision for the future of soccer in the United States and saw Pelé as the key to turning that vision into a reality.

Toye and the Cosmos encountered strong resistance from various countries in their pursuit of Pelé’s signature.

Powerful political involvement was also at play, as Pelé claimed that even then US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had played a role in persuading him to join the Cosmos.

“In 2011, Pelé stated to CNN that he had received numerous offers to play in England, Italy, Spain, and Mexico but declined, as he wanted to retire after 18 years and take a break.”

“The suggestion arose to travel to New York with the goal of growing soccer’s popularity in the United States. This was the catalyst for my mission.”

Pelé attracted new fans to the sport during his time in New York.

All of a sudden, it became popular to watch soccer.

The Cosmos team, featuring star players, gained worldwide attention through televised matches and became a highly sought-after event. Pelé and the Cosmos even embarked on a global tour.

Dennis Tueart, a former player for the Cosmos, shared that wherever they traveled in the world – including Asia, Australia, and Europe – the sole focus was always on Pelé. Despite being signed to replace him, Tueart had the opportunity to play some exhibition matches alongside the renowned Brazilian star. He revealed this information to Sky Sports.

“He possessed exceptional vision and athleticism […] in my opinion, he was undoubtedly the greatest.”

Pelé still has a presence in New York City today. The ‘Pelé Soccer’ store was opened in 2019 and sits on the iconic Times Square, a location many fans flocked to after news of his death.

In 1977, following their victory in the NASL championship, the Cosmos arranged a final match against Pelé’s previous team Santos. The Brazilian player participated in both halves of the game, marking his official retirement.

Following the statement, he spoke to a crowd of over 70,000 individuals at a sold-out Giants Stadium in New York, leading them in a chant of “Love, love, love.”

Maybe this was a fitting conclusion for a man who brought happiness wherever he went and played a significant role in making soccer a part of the lifestyle in North America.


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