Pele had achieved numerous accolades, including three World Cups and a worldwide reputation, but he still had more to accomplish. He made the decision to move to the US and played a significant role in elevating the popularity of soccer in North America.
Unable to reword.
Before joining the North American Soccer League (NASL) team, Pelé had retired from professional soccer after playing 638 games for his childhood club Santos.
It seemed unlikely that Pelé would leave Santos and play for another club, but in the middle of the 1975 season, he signed a $1.67 million per year contract with the Cosmos. This was a surprising move as soccer was not very popular in North America at the time.
Pele arrived, observed, and triumphed. When he departed in 1977, he was a champion in the NASL and had played a crucial role in igniting a surge of interest in soccer.
“After his passing this week, the Cosmos released a statement stating that Pelé had greatly impacted the local soccer scene during his three seasons with the team.”
“Previously, there were only baseball fields, but now there are also soccer fields.”
The Cosmos and their leader sparked a sports revolution in America and also journeyed around the globe to promote the message of the Beautiful Game.
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 the door for other legends like Giorgio Chinaglia and Franz Beckenbauer to do the same. Even though the NASL eventually disbanded in 1984, it provided a model for Major League Soccer (MLS) which was created in 1993.
Famous players like David Beckham, Gareth Bale, Thierry Henry, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic have emulated Pelé’s lead in promoting the sport in North America by joining the MLS.
Football in the United States is currently flourishing, as evidenced by the impressive performance of the US Men’s National Team at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Scouts from various parts of the globe are currently focused on North America to uncover fresh talent, as the sport has become deeply embedded in society and is often inherited within families.
Pelé’s natural talent and contagious smile were key factors in the advancements made during the 1970s.
During the Qatar 2022 event, CNN’s Don Riddell interviewed fans who expressed their admiration for Pelé. One American fan even went as far as to say that the soccer legend had a profound impact on his life.
“I witnessed my first professional game in 1975 and that experience has contributed to my attendance at 11 World Cups,” Clifton Broumand shared with CNN.
“Observing his skill captivated me and made me want to attend soccer matches and the World Cup.”
Before Pelé joined Santos in 1975, the Cosmos’ highest recorded attendance for a match was slightly above 8,000 individuals.
According to the Society for American Soccer History, in his last and most triumphant year in 1977, the typical attendance for home games was 42,689, with three instances of over 70,000 people present.
At the age of 34, Pelé joined the Cosmos and went on to score 37 goals in 64 matches for the NASL.
“Pelé’s decision to bring his artistry to the United States with the New York Cosmos in the 1970s was a transformative moment for the sport in this country,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in a statement.
Pelé’s mesmerizing performances in the US and Canada showcased the immense influence and boundless potential of the sport.
Pelé’s life in pictures
Beacon of light
Clive Toye, the inaugural General Manager of the Cosmos, played a crucial part in convincing the sport’s most prominent player at the time to join the team.
Toye, a previous journalist, played a significant role in the development of the NASL. He had a strong belief in the potential of soccer in the United States and saw Pelé as the key player to bring that vision to fruition.
However, Toye and the Cosmos received strong resistance from various countries in their pursuit of securing Pelé’s signature.
Significant political involvement was utilized, with Pelé claiming that former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger played a role in persuading him to join the Cosmos.
“In 2011, Pelé stated to CNN that he had numerous offers to play in England, Italy, Spain, and Mexico, but he declined them all. He explained that after 18 years of playing, he wanted to retire and rest.”
“The suggestion to travel to New York arose as they aimed to elevate the popularity of soccer in the United States. This was the motivation behind my undertaking.”
All of a sudden, it became trendy to watch soccer.
The Cosmos, with their star-studded team, became a highly sought-after ticket in town and their matches were televised worldwide. Pelé and the Cosmos even embarked on a global tour.
Dennis Tueart, a former player for Cosmos, shared that during their travels to different parts of the world such as Asia, Australia, and Europe, Pelé was always in high demand. This was even true for Tueart himself, who was brought in to replace Pelé and even had the opportunity to play alongside him in some exhibition matches, as he told Sky Sports.
“He possessed remarkable foresight and exceptional physical capabilities […] in my opinion, he was undoubtedly the greatest.”
Pelé’s legacy continues to be felt in present-day New York City. In 2019, the ‘Pelé Soccer’ store was established on the renowned Times Square, drawing in numerous fans following news of his passing.
After winning the NASL championship in 1977, the Cosmos arranged a farewell game against Pelé’s previous team Santos. In this game, Pelé played for both teams during one half, marking his last official match.
Following the statement of praise, he spoke to a crowd of over 70,000 individuals in a full New York Giants Stadium, leading them in a chant of “Love, love, love.”
Maybe a suitable conclusion for a gentleman who brought happiness wherever he traveled and who played a role in promoting soccer as a lifestyle in North America.