Friday, August 3, 2007

"Once In A Lifetime: The New York Cosmos"

There are times in life when we see something that just blows us away and we feel the need to share. Having just watched the 2006 documentary titled, "Once In A Lifetime: The New York Cosmos," I felt so compelled.

I have to preface by saying that as a 33-year-old soccer fan, who has had the opportunity to live in a land where football (soccer) is the number one sport, and then returning here to the US where it is still trying to establish itself; I was blown away by this movie. Like most soccer fans, I likened the now defunct North American Soccer League with the New York Cosmos and the Cosmos with Pele. Aside from knowing that in the late-70's they sold out games at Giant's Stadium, my knowledge of the team was so limited. I knew that Franz Beckenbauer played for the team and that it was founded prior to his arrival, the teams and indeed the leagues success began with the most lucrative financial sports signing of the time in that of Pele.

Prior to seeing this, I was of the idea that the Cosmos were a team of has-beens who played against the never-weres, and whereas the latter is by-in-large true, The New York Cosmos team from 1975-1981 - particularly 76-79, was probably one of the best line-ups of playing talent ever - in any league. Yet with such an abundance of talent come the inevitable clashes of egos, which we in the US see all too often in our sports.

I choose not to write a lot about the content of this movie because I think it's important for any fan of soccer to rent and watch it for yourselves. I guarantee that your outlook on the development of soccer in the US will be seen in a different light. This movie changed my opinion and outlook on the long term prospect of the sport in our country and the reasons are many.

One thing is clear, the Cosmos and NASL grew too big and too fast. They were marketed poorly to Americans and without long term planning and player development, they were destined to fail, but for those great few years, I think there were wheels put in motion, which while not tangible, are evident today. I think that the folks who are so desperately trying to make the MLS work, understand what happened with the Cosmos and the NASL and thus are taking a different approach and letting the league grow a slow rate. I think the addition of a star like David Beckham is more than a shot in the arm. I think it's a first piece of a larger puzzle. Having learned more and more about soccer's successes and woes in the US I find people like Jim Rome to be absolutely wrong when saying that soccer has no future in the US. I just think that there are still so many people that don't get it, but if you look at the numbers, the MLS is growing in attendance and youth soccer is still the faster growing sport in the US.

Will the MLS ever be on par with the Premier League? Perhaps not, but I will not say no. I think that the sky truly is the limit for this sport and that without the lessons of the Cosmos as well as the huge, albeit short burst of enthusiasm of the sport over two decades ago, we wouldn't be where we are now.

This movie needs to be seen if you love soccer, history, and want to take a nostalgic look back American sports. Decide for yourself if Steve Ross was a visionary or threw around money in the wrong places. You, like me, will understand that the first team to sell out Giant's Stadium was not the Giants and the first million dollar players were not from our "big 4" leagues. While these two things have little to do with the huge impact this team had, they are interesting fact that when a few men have a dream, that dream can carry on, even after the initial impact is seemingly gone.