The history of New York Cosmos

The United States is one of the few countries in the world where football is not the most popular sport despite the growth it has had since the birth of the MLS and, more precisely, in the last decade. This is due to various factors such as the popularity of other sports such as American football, baseball or basketball, whose roots are closely related to American culture. It is also in the dynamics of football compared to "American" sports as there are smaller scores and few timeouts. The American enjoy the show time side of things and that it is visual and direct, something that is not usually found in football since a certain palate is needed to understand and enjoy it.

However, in American history, there have been some attempts to try to establish football as part of American culture as it happens in many other countries, and possibly the best remembered attempt and the one that tried to combine the elements that could please people the most. That was the New York Cosmos team of the 1970s and 1980s.


In the early 1960s, football in the United States did not have a professional league and the sport was far behind basketball, football, baseball, or ice hockey in the regard of sports fans in the country. However, the England 1966 World Cup, which was broadcast in the United States, created some interest and was seen as a possibility of trying to obtain some return on that interest and so it was that in 1968, after the union of the United Football Association and the National Professional Football League, the North American Football League (NASL) was born.

The birth of New York Cosmos

Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun, two Turkish brothers established in the United States, who worked as executives at Atlantic Records, who influenced Steve Ross, president of Warner Communications (a group of which Atlantic Records was a part of), to invest in football, more specifically in a new club that was going to be born practically from scratch and that would be established in New York.

The first hire of the new club was Clive Toye, an English journalist and sports writer who had arrived in the United States a couple of years earlier to be the general manager of the Baltimore Bays, to hold the same position at the New York club.

It was Toye who gave the club its name, starting from the premise that it was bigger than metropolitan (because the New York Mets were the newest sports club in the city) and from there came the cosmopolitan that would be shortened to Cosmos. The team, initially, was made up of players born in other countries but established in New York or in the USA, in a certain way, in accordance with the name. It was said, without any kind of confirmation, that the original Cosmos uniform (yellow flannel, blue shorts and white socks) was based on the Brazilian national team.

Pelé - waiving to the crowd


In 1972, the New York Cosmos won their first NASL title, but this did not cause fans to flock to the stadium (attendance was less than 3,000 per game), making the project unprofitable from a financial point of view. In 1974, Pelé, the greatest football icon of the time, had finished his career as a professional football player and the Cosmos executives saw him as the person who could bring the fans to the stadium and create that passion for this sport that is so big in other countries, which made fans buy all kinds of football-related products.

The negotiations were carried out by Steve Ross himself, who traveled to Brazil to make the offer to Pelé, who had offers on the table from big European clubs like Real Madrid or Juventus if he wanted to return to professional activity. Additionally, Pelé had been considered a national treasure of Brazil and that was what kept him going throughout his career at Santos.

Ross made Pelé notice that his impact in the United States was much greater than the one he could have in Brazil or Europe. He used Henry Kissinger, the US Secretary of State at the time, to mediate with the Brazilian government and also offered the player a salary that they say amounted to 7 million dollars for a 3-year contract, something unprecedented up to that time. In 1975 Pelé made his official debut with the New York Cosmos, with which he had an enormous impact in terms of marketing and popularity.

More stars in the Cosmos

As a result of the success of the signing of Pelé, other NASL clubs sought to carry out operations of the same profile and this resulted in players like George Best arriving at the Los Angeles Aztecs, Eusebio at the Boston Minutemen or Bobby Moore at the San Antonio Thunder to mention a few that followed the Brazilian star.

However, New York Cosmos, who were the pioneers in this regard, saw that sporting success was not ensured with just one world class figure (although economic success certainly) and that is why they signed Giorgio Chinaglia, an Italian striker who had been part of the Lazio team who won their first Scudetto in 1974. Chinaglia would be the NASL's all-time top scorer after his 7-year stint in the league. A year later, in 1977, the World Cup winning duo of Franz Beckenbauer and Carlos Alberto would arrive, forming a team that managed to lift the NASL trophy again.

After that tournament, Pelé would decide to hang up his boots on October 1, 1977, in a friendly match between the New York Cosmos and Santos from Brazil, the club where he spent his entire career before coming to the United States, playing for a while with each team. Cosmos would keep their other stars and win 3 more NASL titles between 1978 and 1982.

In 1984, after a rescission that affected the United States in the early 1980s and problems with the players' union, the NASL would disappear and New York Cosmos would do so only a year later, after some attempts to maintain itself, although interest in the club had fallen very noticeably. Despite this, they became an icon of American football and one of the main reasons for this sport to become widely known on North American soil.
Kelvin Tingling knows most things about football and also likes to write about it. Kelvin lives in Buenos Aires and his favorite team is Boca Juniors.