On this day in 1977, Brazilian soccer superstar Pelé leads the New York Cosmos to victory in the Soccer Bowl, the championship of the North American Soccer League (NASL). With the help of international talent on its rosters, the NASL enjoyed surprising success in the mid-to-late 1970s in the United States, a country not particularly noted for its love for soccer. The 1977 Cosmos were a star-studded team that, at least for a short time, put soccer on nearly equal footing with the other major American sports.
In 1968, a group of investors founded the NASL to capitalize on the excitement generated by England’s victory in the 1966 World Cup. The league’s marquee team was the New York Cosmos, owned by famous music mogul brothers Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun. The Cosmos assembled a roster of aging international superstars to give their team and their league name recognition in the United States and respect in the international soccer community. Franz Beckenbauer from Germany, Giorgio Chinaglia from Italy and Carlos Alberto from Brazil were among the well-known players who finished their career with the Cosmos. The team signed Brazilian striker Pelé, widely considered the greatest soccer player in history, in 1975.
The 1977 NASL championship featured the Cosmos against the Seattle Sounders in Portland, Oregon. A record-setting crowd of 35,548 in Portland’s Civic Stadium looked on as the Cosmos’ Steve Hunt stole a pass from Seattle’s star goalkeeper Tony Chursky and then scored on the empty Seattle goal in the 19th minute to put the Cosmos up 1-0. Just four minutes later, Sounder Tommy Ord responded with a booming low kick past keeper Shep Messing into the Cosmos’ goal to tie the score. For the next 70 minutes, the game was tense, with neither team controlling play. The Sounders made up for their lack of individual stars with stellar teamwork. While the Sounders broke through the Cosmos midfield to set up their attack, keeper Chursky denied free kicks by Pelé and Beckenbauer. With 13 minutes remaining, the Cosmos’ Giorgio Chinaglia broke the tie with a header into Seattle’s net for a 2-1 lead, which the Cosmos preserved for their second NASL championship.
On October 1, 1977, Pelé played his last professional soccer match, an exhibition between the Cosmos and Santos, his club team from Brazil. He played the first half for the Cosmos and the second half for Santos. The Cosmos won the match 2-1.