During the ‘60s and ‘70s, the best soccer player on the planet was the Brazilian icon Pele. Thanks to his unofficial goalscoring record of over 1,000, some believe he is the best ever. After winning the World Cup for a record third time, Pele took his skills to the USA to play with the New York Cosmos. He spent three fun seasons showing off his skills in the North American Soccer League.
Creating a buzz
Much like when David Beckham came to the MLS in 2007, soccer fans were excited at the prospect of watching one of the world’s best in action. Pele was a huge star then and remains one of the biggest names in soccer to this day. Thanks to Pele, soccer experienced an explosion of interest in the United States as people were desperate to see this worldwide hero perform. Pele signed for the New York Cosmos from Brazilian side Santos and if he could perform anything like he used to then people were in for a treat.
A world-famous star
People were intrigued to see if this superstar would run rings around his American opponents or whether he would struggle now he was edging toward retirement. It didn’t take Pele long to introduce himself to his new fans. He scored one and assisted another on his debut, and suddenly all fans knew what the hype was all about.
Despite crowds of over 60,000 at Cosmos games, soccer in the USA was still struggling to take off. Pele’s introduction to the roster tripled the Cosmos’ home attendances, but the media were unsure how to broadcast this new sport.
Lacking commercial backing
While Pele was loved from the stands, soccer in America just wouldn’t take off. Heavy investment was put into the North American Soccer League, but it couldn’t compete with American sports regarding commercial following.
Some looked at soccer as an outsider’s game, but attendances were still on the rise. Those who got the opportunity to watch Pele in action rarely refused. The North American Soccer League would fold in 1985, but American soccer fans would always remember seeing the great man play.
It was finally time for Pele to say goodbye to his playing career in 1977 after more than two decades as a star. His legendary career came to an end in Portland against the Sounders. It was the championship game and would be fitting if Pele could end his career with one last victory.
He didn’t score, but Pele’s Cosmos beat the Sounders 2-1 to lift the championship. Brazilian fans could be heard across the stadium screaming “Pele! Pele!” as their hero had played his final game. In three seasons Pele scored 31 league goals with the Cosmos, proving that even at 37 years old he had no equal.
After his final game, Pele said he was incredibly lucky. He became an ambassador for soccer and remains in the conversation for best player ever. Only Maradona, Lionel Messi, and Cristiano Ronaldo can have a claim to be better.