Pelé : Rest in Glory
We have all seen the articles, snippets, and quick memorials for Pelé. In a news cycle that quickly moves on to the next sensationalized attention-grabber of information. They are quick to tell us his official name was Edson Arantes do Nascimento, who was born in Brazil on October 23, 1940, and was a football legend and Brazilian treasure.
I think he deserves more time and to be brought up more frequently for changing the face of soccer in the United States. Pelé’s arrival in the United States changed the course of soccer in the United States of America.
Pele came out of semi-retirement when he signed with the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League for $1.67 million a year for the 1975 season and was the highest-paid athlete on the planet. The league struggled to gain credibility since forming in 1968, which included 36 franchises coming and going.
His first game with the team brought on 21,000 plus and was watched by 10 million viewers on CBS. The game put the sport on the national radar of the country, and for the next three seasons, Pele and the Cosmos would draw fans wherever they played. When he played his final game, a record crowd of 77,000 people packed Giants Stadium in a match against his former club Santos.
However, the success would be fleeting with the league expanding to multiple markets that would play in giant football and multi-purpose stadiums. Salaries skyrocketed, and clubs ceased operations rapidly. The league would cease operations in March 1985, and the Cosmos would fade from history a few months later after an ill-fated independent schedule.
However, the cast had been set with youth soccer involvement exploding through the country; many of those players would become members of the US Men’s Soccer Team in 1990 when they qualified for the World Cup for the first time in 40 years. In 1994, the USA would host a successful World Cup, proving that the country could be a soccer nation.
Soccer might still be played in high school football venues in front of 2,000 fans, or perhaps the indoor version of the game would still be considered the top echelon of soccer in this country. Today, Major League Soccer thrives with a majority of soccer-specific venues and a passionate fanbase with 29 clubs. Would that have been the case without Pele’s success with the Cosmos?
Pelé is one of the most successful and popular sports figures of the 1900s but should be discussed and referenced throughout the 2000s. In the United States, he doesn't seem to get the recognition he deserves for not only being the best player but also for his undeclared dignity in soccer.
He wasn’t just labeled one of the greatest players of all time but was given the title of “the greatest” by FIFA. He was a superior player & human being that was also named Athlete of the Century by the International Olympic Committee in 1999.
In addition, he was voted world player of the century by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics. To have titles like these but still not be a household name in the 21st century is why he holds the title (in my opinion) of one of the most underrated and appreciated players in the United States.