A great Brazilian inside forward, Edson Arantes do Nascimento, often called the best player in the history of soccer, who had a tremendous impact on the future of American soccer, despite the fact that his career in the North American Soccer League was only two-and-a-half seasons.
Although soccer had been played in the United States for more than a century before Pele’s arrival in 1975, that arrival can still be said to have been the most significant event sparking the American soccer boom of subsequent decades.
Pele’s presence in the NASL did have some downside. The signing of Pele, for $2.8 million for three years, could be said to have started the upward spiral of spending that was one of the factors that eventually doomed the NASL.
Pele had been retired from his Brazilian club, Santos, for a year, and from the Brazilian national team for three years, when he unexpectedly signed with the New York Cosmos in the middle of the 1975 NASL season. Although retired from playing and a veteran of four World Cups, he was only 34. He had made his first-team debut with Santos at 15 and played in his first World Cup at 17.
Pele played 64 NASL games for the Cosmos in 1975, 1976 and 1977. In those games, he scored 37 goals, a small but significant contribution to his career total of more than 1,200 goals. His effect on the Cosmos was huge. In the season before Pele arrived, 1974, the Cosmos’ largest home crowd was 8,009. In 1977, his final season with them, they averaged 42,689 for 16 NASL home games, and had three crowds over 70,000 (one of which was for a post-season Pele Farewell Game against Santos). They won the NASL championship in that 1977 season, and Pele was chosen as a first-team NASL all-star in all three of his seasons.
This upturn, during which the Cosmos were transformed from an also-ran into the league’s dominant team, was not just Pele’s doing. It also involved the arrival of Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto, Giorgio Chinaglia and others, and moves to newer and larger stadiums.
Inducted in 1992.