Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Can Beckham Pack them like Pele?

Now that we've reached the dog days of the baseball season and the quietest portion of the football season is reaching an end, it's the perfect time for MLS to roll out their pricey new arrival: David Beckham. Of course, no one should expect MLS to reach to level of the big three leagues, or even NASCAR, but maybe they can match tennis' or the NHL's level of popularity. In order to truly become mainstream, they would need someone transcendent, a singular talent on the level of a Gretzky or Jordan. They need Pele.

This weekend I watched Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos, and it was fascinating. In the late 60s, Warner Bros. acquired Atlantic Records, where Ray Charles rose to stardom under the direction of Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun (featured in Ray). As a favor to Nesuhi, Warner head Steve Ross helped the Erteguns found the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League (hereafter referred to as the NASL) in 1971. The team and the league floundered along until 1975, when they were able to lure Pele to New York. Pele is not just the greatest soccer player of all time, he's probably the greatest athlete. He scored more goals than Gretzky in fewer games, along with a record three World Cups.

Cosmos attendance skyrocketed
from 3,578 a game in 1974 to 10,450 a game in 1975, 18,227 in 1976, 34,142 in 1977, and 47,856 in 1978. On August 14, 1977, the Cosmos sold out the Meadowlands drawing more than 77,000. Howard Cosell said soccer was here to stay, Cosmos players were fixtures at Studio 54, and soccer reached it's unquestioned peak of popularity in the United States.

The NASL was able to withstand Pele's 1977 retirement, but not an attempted hostile takeover of Warner Bros. by Rupert Murdoch, along with a collapse of Warner owned Atari. The Cosmos were sold to Pele's second fiddle Giorgio Chinaglia, who couldn't afford to keep the team afloat. 1984 was their last season.

So soccer has been been successful in this country before, but it remains to be seen if Beckham can bring the same level of sizzle that Pele brought as a soccer ambassador. But those that say soccer is doomed in this country need only look back 30 years ago to the Summer of Sam, Reggie Jackson, Billy Martin, and Pele.

4 comments:

Pop Cultured said...

great throwback...pele was ridiculous...

Anonymous said...

Greatest athlete of all time??!! Pelé never played in a top tier league. He played his entire career in Brasil and USA against inferior competition than players in the leagues in Europe face. I wonder how many goals Gretzky would have in the AHL or IHL against easier competition? Its easy to measure the greatness of Gretzky, Jordan, Tiger, or Federer because they play or played against the best competition in the world.

Vainglorious said...

If the soccer competition in Europe is so much better than in Brasil why is it that in the history of the World Cup the national team of Brazil has the most overall wins in the tournament, the most goals scored in the tournament, the most appearances in the finals (Championship Game) and the most Championship wins. Pele helped bring home 3 of the 5 Championships that Brazil has won. By the way,the best of all of the countries of the world play in the WORLD CUP including the European teams. Now What?!

Anonymous said...

Bechkham and Pele are not comparable! They play different positions with distinct responsibilities... Pele is the greatest player ever to play the game in our history and his records can speak to themselves... In terms of Brazil and its internal clubs, they are the best and the won the most of the championships in the World Cup history back-to-back! So, lets face the truth of this matter! Perhaps, the next century would produce someone like him... But, that is remain to be seen... For now, we just have to enjoy his talent and what he has contributed to the game soccer to our generation and what he his talent can do to improve the soccer in the future...