Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos

Synopsis: A look back at one of the more curious fads in American professional sports, the sudden rise and precipitous fall of the North American Soccer League, spanning its existence 1968-1984, as seen through the experience of its most famous club, the New York Cosmos. The NASL made very little impact in the US, where soccer had virtually no following, until in 1975 the New York Cosmos succeeded in signing the most famous player in the world, Pele. Attendence for Cosmos games exploded, outdrawing even the New York Giants and New York Jets of the NFL, to where exhibition games in Seattle were drawing huge crowds, and when Pele announced his retirement in 1977 his final game drew the biggest crowd to ever see a soccer game in the US. His retirement from the game began a slow but steady decline for the NASL as money issues for the league and the spending practices of the Cosmos became a running controversy.
Director(s): Paul Crowder (co-director), John Dower (co-director)
Production: Miramax
  1 nomination.
Rotten Tomatoes:
97 min


The New York Cosmos

were the best and worst

'of what soccer in America was.'

We were the first big pioneers where

big stars came to the United States.

'Pel, Giorgio Chinaglia,

Franz Beckenbauer, Johann Cruyff...'

It was my dream at that time

to go to play for the New York Cosmos.

I think it was one of the best decisions

I ever made.


All of a sudden in that one summer,

summer 1977, the Cosmos took over.

When you saw that stadium

with 80,000 people

'you almost had an orgasm... really!'

It was a happening.

It was an event. It was unprecedented.

'The Cosmos were North America's

soccer ambassadors to the world.'

'We sensed

we were in on something special.'

The world's sport is finally being berthed

right here, right in our midst.

Soccer will be the biggest

big league of all.

'Goal number three!'

We transcended everything.

We were international. We were cool.

We were everything to everybody.

The world's most popular sport

came to its most powerful nation

in the same way the United States

imported many of its people

through the gates at Ellis Island,

imported from almost

every corner of the world.

'This is the cradle

of New York soccer in the early days.'

Ethnic communities playing soccer

on fields like this,

in and around New York

for decades, really.

"Hyphenated Americans"

we used to call them,

German-Americans, Greek-Americans,

but never American-Americans.

From the melting pot came

America's first great soccer team.

'In 1950, a free-spirited band of Yanks'

pulled off one of the most stunning

upsets in World Cup history.

The World Cup,

the Tournament of Nations

held every four years since 1930

is the global game's ultimate event.

The American's second match

in 1950 was against mighty England,

the country where the modern sport

was born.

I was just a teenager at that time,

but it was a great shock to wake up

'to find England had been knocked out

by the United States.'

We just couldn't believe it.

The winning goal was headed home

by Joe Gaetjens,

a Haitian living in New York City

who made his living as a dishwasher.

On the day he became an American

hero, he wasn't even a US citizen.

It would be 40 years before the US

fielded a World Cup team again.

'Americans don't have

the attention span that other people do'

for watching a sport that is

free-flowing and continuous.

'Hot smash! Burleson's

gonna have a long throw. He makes it.'

'That ends the inning.

Bottom of the 7th, 5-3, Cincinnati.'

In our sports there are all these

artificial stops and starts,

'which we use to indulge ourselves in

beer and Cracker Jacks and whatever.'

'Football, baseball,

basketball, hockey,

'all have natural breaks.'

I think that people watching soccer

for the first time wonder what's going on.

It's just up and down, up and down.

'Our football is a game

without stopping,

'where you've got to think for yourself.

'A game that you do with your feet

and not with your hands.'

All these things are totally different

for the American public.

'If you really want to get soccer,

'you have to concentrate on it

for the entire 45 minutes.'

I have sometimes likened it to a play.

If you go to a play in the theatre,

'you are going to pay attention to it

until the intermission.'

'Then you take a break and talk about it,

'then sit down again

and watch the entire second act.'

Soccer's like that.

It's not like the other American sports.

'It's about tradition.

'People in the rest of the world

'are passionate about soccer.'

There's no passion in America about


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Mark Monroe

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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