Football world lost legend Thursday with. Pele, the king of Brazilian soccer, has compiled a trophy list in which he has won the World Cup three times, the Confederations Cup twice, the Copa Libertadores twice and the Brasileiro six times, but he was also crowned the NASL title with the New York Cosmos in 1977. His influence on American soccer is unparalleled. .
Founded in 1968, the North American Soccer League was one of the most popular soccer leagues in America, operating as the first division league that preceded Major League Soccer. And within the NFL, the Cosmos were the best of the crop, known the world over and having enough to draw for players like Franz Beckenbauer, Giorgio Chinaglia and legend Pele.
Joining the Cosmos from Santos in June 1975, Pele was a surprising pick up for a team of this size at the time. Before the Brazilian ship’s arrival, the Cosmos were a team of nomads, but Pele showed that team meant business on an ambitious, world-shaking move. His three-year contract with Cosmos for $2.8 million made Pele the highest-paid athlete in the world at the time. The Cosmos helped get him other contracts to ensure he paid as little tax as possible, one of which saw him listed as a recording artist on Atlantic Records during his time with the club, along with Brazilian musician Sergio Mendes.
Pele’s impact was immediate despite being 34 at the time and not playing football competitively for eight months before joining the Universe. Pele made his first-team debut on June 15, 1975, scoring a goal and assisting in a tie against the Dallas Tornadoes. That match was watched by 10 million people on CBS, a record for American football television viewership at the time as the Kings drew attention from far and wide. Pele scored five goals and assisted four more in just nine games, but he was in the starting lineup.
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Chinaglia joined Pelé the following season and the magic ensued. Pelé scored 13 goals and 18 assists in his second season with the club while winning the NASL Player of the Year award. The next season is when he led the Cosmos to the 1977 Soccer Bowl title which was the pinnacle of American soccer at the time. The club’s attendance would triple during his time there with Pelé playing in front of a sold out Giants Stadium against Santos.
More than 77,000 fans attended that match and Pele made sure that they received a goal-scoring bid in a 2-1 win over his former club. Pele’s arrival and influence showed that soccer could be made in America and laid an important foundation for the record-setting 1994 World Cup in the United States.
A legend on and off the field, Pele’s impact on American football will be just as unforgettable as his impact on the global game. The only player to win three World Cups and score 1,281 career goals (including friendlies), Pele’s legacy is untouchable and without him, there likely won’t be a 2026 World Cup to look forward to in America, let alone everything that has come before. .
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