It was ever so brief, but from the late 1970s through 1980 there actually was a golden age of U.S. professional soccer. North American Soccer League stadiums all over the country were jammed, especially when people came to see the Cosmos.
A bit of that era returned to Giants Stadium on Sunday night at a reunion to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the birth of the Cosmos. There, Cosmos alumni played two games, one against the 1982 Italian World Cup team and the other against the Brazilian Masters.
The heyday of the Cosmos began in 1975, when the greatest soccer player in history, Brazil's Pelé, emerged from retirement at the age of 34 to sign a $4.5 million, three-year contract with the team. Attendance figures for Cosmos games—home and away—soared as fans came out of the woodwork to watch Pelé. The next year, the organization signed Italian star Giorgio Chinaglia, and in 1977, after enticing West Germany's Franz Beckenbauer to join them, the Cosmos won the NASL championship. That allowed Pelé to retire content in having sparked a soccer craze in the U.S.
The Cosmos, far and away the richest team in the league, continued to shop liberally, and they won three more NASL titles, in 1978, '80 and '82. But the rest of the NASL foundered trying to keep up with the Cosmos, and by the time the Cosmos won their last Soccer Bowl, even their crowds were dwindling. In '85 the Cosmos called it quits, and the NASL quickly folded.
None of the superstars played on Sunday night. Beckenbauer was bedridden in Austria with a stomach infection, and Chinaglia stayed in Rome for "personal reasons." But Pelé, now 50, did make an appearance at halftime of the second game to accept an award for the contributions he has made to U.S. soccer. A standing ovation from some 32,000 rain-soaked fans helped drown out the strains of Barbra Streisand's The Way We Were. As loudly as possible, they chanted, "Pelé! Pelé!"
For a moment, it felt like 1977 again.
Lebanese swimmers were hung out to dry
Organizers of the 16th World University Games were a little surprised when the Lebanese team showed up for the opening ceremonies in Shef-field, England, on July 13. They weren't expecting a Lebanese team after the official entry form they had sent to the team's Beirut office was returned to England in a singed envelope with "Headquarters blown up—return to sender" handwritten on it.
Amal Jaklys, a Lebanese swimmer, says that the failure to complete the entry form was the result not of an explosion but of a mix-up at the team office. "It is the fault of one person I shall not name who didn't do what he was supposed to," she says. "I'd like to kill him, actually."