Football lost a legend on ThursdayThe champion of Brazilian football, Pele has won many trophies, winning three World Cups, two Intercontinental Cups, two Copa Libertadores and six Brasileiros, but lost his way at the New York Cosmos. won the NASL title. His influence on American football is unparalleled.
Founded in 1968, the North American Soccer League is one of America’s most famous soccer leagues and operated as a first division predecessor to Major League Soccer. Within the NASL, Cosmos was known all over the world and had attracted enough players such as Franz Beckenbauer, Giorgio Chinaglia and legend Pele.
Joining Cosmos from Santos in June 1975, Pelé was a remarkable player for a team of its size. Before the arrival of the Brazilian, Cosmos was a team of journeymen, but Pele has shown that the team means business with an ambitious, world-shaking move, and his $2.8 million deal with Cosmos made Pele the highest-paid athlete in the world at the time. Cosmos helped him make other contracts to keep him from paying taxes as much as possible. One such deal, during his time at the club, was with Brazilian musician Sergio Mendes as a recording artist for Atlantic Records.
Despite being 34 at the time and having not played football for eight months before joining Cosmos, Pele’s influence was immediate. Pele made his team debut on June 15, 1975, scoring a goal and an assist in Dallas’ draw with the Tornados. The match was watched by his 10 million viewers on his CBS, at the time a record for his TV viewership in American football. Pele only scored 5 goals in 9 games and added 4 assists, but he was just getting started.
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Chinalia joined Pele the following season and the magic continued. Pele notched his 13 goals and 18 assists in his second season at the club while winning the NASL MVP. The next season will be when he leads the Cosmos to his bowl title in 1977, the pinnacle of American football at the time. Club attendance tripled while Pele played Santos in front of a sold-out Giants Stadium.
Over 77,000 fans attended that match and Pele made sure they were treated to a show that scored the goal in a 2–1 win over his former club. Pelé’s arrival and impact showed that football could be successful in America, and laid an important foundation for the record-breaking World Cup in America in 1994.
A legend on and off the pitch, Pele’s impact on American football is as unforgettable as his impact on the global game. As the only player to have won the World Cup three times and scored 1,281 career goals (including friendly matches), Pele’s legacy is unmanageable and without him, he’s the man most hoped for in America. There will be no 2026 World Cup.