New York Cosmos

New York Cosmos
New York Cosmos
Full name New York Cosmos
Cosmos (1977–78)
Nickname(s) The Cosmos
Founded 4 February 1971[1]
Dissolved 1985
Stadium See Stadium and supporters
League North American Soccer League
Final season

3rd in Eastern Division
Home colors
Away colors

The New York Cosmos (pronounced /ˈkɒzmoʊs/; simply the Cosmos in 1977–1978) were an American soccer club based in New York City, New York and its suburbs. The team played home games in three stadiums around New York before moving in 1977 to Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey, where it remained for the rest of its history. Founded in 1971, the team competed in the North American Soccer League (NASL) until 1984 and was the strongest franchise in that league, both competitively and financially – based largely around its backing by Warner Communications President Steve Ross, which enabled it to sign internationally famous stars such as the Brazilian forward Pelé, Italian striker Giorgio Chinaglia and the West German sweeper Franz Beckenbauer. The acquisition of these foreign players, particularly Pelé, made the Cosmos into what Gavin Newsham called "the most glamorous team in world football", and contributed to the development of soccer across the United States, a country where it had previously been largely ignored.

However, as the Cosmos declined following Pelé's retirement, so did the NASL. Attendances fell, the league's television deal was lost and it finally folded in 1984. Although the Cosmos attempted to operate as an independent team in the Major Indoor Soccer League, attendances were so low that the club withdrew without completing a season. The Cosmos folded, though the team's youth camps continued to operate under the Cosmos name and label, run by the franchise's former general manager, G. Peppe Pinton.

The Cosmos name remained very well known, even after it stopped competing. Numerous attempts were made to revive it during the 1990s and 2000s, most notably as a Major League Soccer (MLS) club. Seeking to retain the Cosmos' heritage, Pinton refused to sell the name and image rights, believing that MLS would not honor them. However, following a change of attitude by MLS towards the NASL's legacy and the revival of several former NASL names, Pinton sold the rights to an international, English-based consortium in August 2009. A new Cosmos team was announced a year later, in August 2010, by the group's honorary president, Pelé. The new team intends to become an MLS expansion franchise based in New York City.



Creation and naming

The club was founded in 1971 by brothers Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun and Warner Brothers President Steve Ross. The team's first recruit was the English-born Clive Toye, a former sports writer who had moved to the United States in 1967 to become general manager of the short-lived Baltimore Bays; he was given the same post in New York. Toye sought to convey the new team's ambitions within its name, and reasoned that he could outdo the "Metropolitans" label referenced by the then-nine-year-old New York Mets baseball team by calling his team the "Cosmos", shortened from "Cosmopolitans". However, the Erteguns wished to use the name originally suggested by Nesuhi, the "New York Blues"; to ensure that his own chosen name was adopted, Toye staged a "name the team" contest, inviting supporters to write in with potential names. He then filed dozens of entries suggesting "Cosmos", one of which he chose as the winner. The day on which the name was officially unveiled, February 4, 1971, would later be adopted as the Cosmos' founding date.[1][2][3]

North American Soccer League

The New York Cosmos entered the 1968-founded North American Soccer League (NASL) in its fourth season, 1971. The first roster signing of the club was Gordon Bradley, an English professional who had moved to North America in 1963 and played for the New York Generals in 1968.[4] He was made player-coach, a position he would hold until 1975.[4] Bradley's team finished second in its division in its first year, playing at Yankee Stadium, home of the New York Yankees baseball team. Randy Horton, from Bermuda, was named the league's Rookie of the Year after scoring 16 goals and 37 points, the most by any New York player.[5][6] In 1972 the team moved to Hofstra Stadium where they won their first league title with a 2–1 victory over the St. Louis Stars. Horton was the league's top scorer and Most Valuable Player, with 9 goals and 22 points from the 14 regular-season games and two post-season matches.[5] The Cosmos reached the play-offs once more in 1973, but were knocked out at the semi-final stage.[7] Bradley coached the United States national team for six games during 1973 – picking himself in one, despite not being an American citizen – but lost them all.[4][8][9] Before the 1974 season, the Cosmos moved again, settling at Downing Stadium. In their first year at their new base, they finished bottom of their division.[7] Horton top scored for the Cosmos in every season before he was traded in 1975 to the Washington Diplomats.[5]

Arrival of Pelé, and the Cosmos' peak

A dark-skinned young man in soccer attire is pictured in mid-stride as he sprints with the ball past an opposing player, who looks tired and has given up attempting to chase him.
Pelé, pictured while playing for Brazil in 1960

It was during the 1975 season that the Cosmos acquired the Brazilian star Pelé, whom they had been attempting to sign since the team was created.[10] Ross had apparently not heard of him before getting involved in soccer, but agreed to finance the transfer when Toye compared the Brazilian's popularity to that of the Pope. Pelé joined the Cosmos on June 10, 1975 on a salary of $1.4 million per year, an enormous wage for an athlete at that time. A number of contracts – only one of which mentioned soccer – were set up for Pelé to ensure that he paid the lowest amount of tax possible, including a position as "recording artist" with Warner subsidiary Atlantic Records. Toye later boasted: "We owned him lock, stock and barrel."[11]

The Pelé deal was later described by Gavin Newsham, an English writer, as "the transfer coup of the century". His arrival turned the Cosmos from a "ragbag assembly of students, foreigners and part-timers" to a huge commercial presence. The club's groundsman, on hearing that the Brazilian's début for New York was to be broadcast on CBS, spray-painted the pitch green to disguise how little grass was on it: The match, against the Dallas Tornado, was broadcast to 22 countries and covered by more than 300 journalists from all over the world.[11][12]

A portrait photograph of a young man with Mediterranean features and curly, brown hair, wearing a sky blue soccer jersey.
Giorgio Chinaglia, seen with S.S. Lazio in 1975, a year before he joined the Cosmos

Although New York finished third at season end, it was still too low a placing to reach the post-season.[7] Bradley was replaced for the 1976 season by another Englishman, Ken Furphy, who paired Pelé up front with Italian international forward Giorgio Chinaglia, a new arrival from S.S. Lazio. He had been so popular at Lazio that when his move to New York was announced, supporters "threatened to throw themselves beneath the wheels of the plane". By contrast to most of the overseas stars bought by NASL teams, Chinaglia was signed in his prime:[11] He would play for the Cosmos for the rest of their history, scoring a record number of goals and points not only for the Cosmos, but for the entire league.[7] He shared an unusual personal bond with the club's ultimate controller, Ross, and was therefore treated differently from the other players, including Pelé.[11] Crowds rose with the arrival of these and other European and South American international players,[7] resulting in a move back to Yankee Stadium for the 1976 season. With numerous foreign stars arriving at the Cosmos, the team's competitive performance improved, as New York reached the play-offs at the end of the season, but lost in the divisional championship match to the Tampa Bay Rowdies.[7] The Cosmos relocated again before the 1977 season, to the newly constructed Giants Stadium in New Jersey, and at the same time dropped the prefix "New York" and played simply as "the Cosmos", without a geographical name. They would do so until 1979.[7][13]

Bradley returned as coach for the 1977 season in place of the dismissed Furphy, but was removed after half of the season to become the club's vice-president of player personnel.[4] South African-born former Italy international Eddie Firmani took his place.[4] Pelé played his last professional match on October 1, 1977, in front of a capacity crowd at Giants Stadium:[11] In an exhibition match between New York and his former club Santos, Pelé appeared for both sides, playing one half for each. The Cosmos won the game 2–1.[11] Pelé's compatriot, former Brazil captain Carlos Alberto was signed in 1977, at the same time as Franz Beckenbauer, who had captained the 1974 FIFA World Cup-winning West German national team. On the field, New York won three out of four championships, in 1977, 1978 and 1980. A playoff game against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in 1977 drew an American record crowd for a soccer game of 77,691.[11] The team's average attendances, regularly over 40,000 during the late 1970s, were the biggest in the league;[7] this helped it to become the league's "marquee club", both commercially and competitively.[4] Firmani was fired in 1979; he claimed, after falling out with Chinaglia.[14] His assistant, Ray Klivecka, replaced him, becoming the team's first American-born coach. He lasted a season before himself being replaced by Júlio Mazzei.[15]

Decline of the Cosmos and the NASL

After the retirement of Pelé in 1977, much of the progress that American soccer had made during his stay was lost; there was no star at the same level to replace him as the NASL's headline act.[12] After enduring briefly during the late 1970s, attendances dropped after 1980. The sport's popularity fell and the media lost interest.[12] The deal with broadcaster ABC to broadcast NASL matches was also lost in 1980, and the 1981 Soccer Bowl was only shown on tape delay.[16] All of the franchises quickly became unprofitable, and a salary cap enforced before the 1984 season only delayed the inevitable.[16] The league folded at the end of 1984, following the loss of most of its franchises.[7][16][17]

The Cosmos had financial problems of their own, on top of those affecting the league in general. Much of the Cosmos' ability to attract the well-known overseas players it had acquired was due to the financial resources of parent company Warner Communications. In the early 1980s, Warner was the target of a hostile takeover bid by Australian media magnate Rupert Murdoch; although this attempt did not succeed, Warner sold off several of its assets, among them Atari and Global Soccer, Inc., the subsidiary that operated the Cosmos. Chinaglia bought Global Soccer, and thus controlled the team. His group did not have the capital necessary to keep all of the players signed on expensive contracts by Warner, which resulted in many of the stars being sold. The club won its last title in 1982, and by the last season of the NASL, 1984, had missed the play-offs for the first time since 1975.[7] The precipitous decline of the Cosmos after the 1983 season became for many fans and the media proof positive of the grave condition of the whole NASL.[7][17]

Major Indoor Soccer League, demise and youth soccer

Following the collapse of the NASL, the team competed in the Major Indoor Soccer League during the 1984–85 season, with Klivecka briefly returning as coach,[18] but withdrew after 33 games due to low attendances. Although the organization did not field a team following that season, the Cosmos' youth soccer camps, which the team had started in 1977, remained in operation.[19] The camps were run by former Cosmos general manager G. Peppe Pinton, who retained ownership of the Cosmos name, logo and records. Pinton operated his youth programs at Ramapo College in Mahwah, New Jersey, where he was the team's soccer coach from 1989 to 2003.[20][21]

New Cosmos team

Since the original New York Cosmos club stopped competing in 1985, there have been frequent attempts to revive it. With the rise of Major League Soccer (MLS), various New York area entities – including past and present owners of the New York Red Bulls – lobbied Pinton for the acquisition of the Cosmos name.[22] Pinton refused to allow an MLS team to use it, believing that the league would not acknowledge the Cosmos' legacy.[23][24] However, when old NASL names such as the San Jose Earthquakes, Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps were revived as MLS franchises, he reconsidered. He sold the Cosmos name and brand to English businessman Paul Kemsley in 2009,[25] whose group, fronted by Pelé and including many well-known soccer figures,[26] announced a new team with the Cosmos' name in August 2010.[27] As of January 2011, the new Cosmos are attempting to become an MLS expansion franchise.[28]

Cultural impact and influence on US soccer

Sometimes, in the dressing room, I think I am in Hollywood.

Franz Beckenbauer on the atmosphere surrounding the Cosmos[11]

When Pelé arrived at the Cosmos in 1975, American soccer was, in the words of Gavin Newsham, "dying a slow, painful and largely unnoticed death". Described by one sports writer as "a game played by Commies and fairies in short pants", soccer was not taken seriously by the bulk of the American media, which often sent its junior reporters to cover matches played in front of almost-empty stands.[12] The Cosmos, and indeed the whole of the NASL, were of very little interest to the public and thus commanded only a small amount of coverage. The signing of Pelé by the Cosmos transformed soccer across the country: Within days of his arrival, the increased media attention had caused the Cosmos' office staff to increase from five people to more than 50. The Brazilian's arrival reversed the fortunes of not only the declining Cosmos, but the perception of the entire league; with the credibility that Pelé gave it, soccer became a viable alternative to "American" sports such as basketball, baseball and American football. The Cosmos, in particular, became an internationally famous club – Newsham called them "the most glamorous team in world football", while ESPN's David Hirshey later described them as "soccer demigods".[12]

We were as big as the Yankees and bigger than the Giants. We had our own tables at all the clubs. But we weren't any more decadent than players today.

Shep Messing on the Cosmos' cultural stature[29]

The Cosmos, as the flagship team of the NASL, embodied what Hirshey labelled the "nexus of soccer and showbiz", and became Warner Communications' most culturally visible asset.[11][12] After Pelé signed for New York, many other European and South American stars came to the United States to play alongside him and for other NASL franchises: The Los Angeles Aztecs, for example, brought George Best and Johan Cruyff to the US in 1976 and 1979 respectively. Cosmos road trips, described by traveling secretary Steve Marshall as "like traveling with the Rolling Stones",[12] saw the team pack out each stadium it visited,[11][12] while at home, the team attracted numerous high-profile supporters and became regular patrons of the well-known New York night club Studio 54.[11][12] While soccer had previously been largely ignored by the American press, the Cosmos and other NASL teams became regular fixtures on the back pages.[12]

However, just as Pelé had kick-started the development of soccer in the US, his retirement in 1977 would mark the start of a decline.[12] With nobody of the same stature to personify the sport, the popularity that had been built up nosedived just as quickly as it had appeared.[12] The league's television deal with ABC was lost at the end of 1980 and a salary cap, enforced before the 1984 season,[16] caused many of the remaining overseas stars – attracted to America by large wages – to return to the European leagues.[12] The NASL collapsed abruptly in late 1984, and was not replaced by a new professional soccer league until Major League Soccer's first season in 1996.[11]

A feature-length documentary about the Cosmos, called Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos, was released in theaters in 2006. The film, narrated by Matt Dillon, featured interviews with many of the players and personalities involved with the team.[11][29][30]

Colors and crest

The original Cosmos crest, used until 1977

When the team was founded in 1971, Cosmos general manager Clive Toye chose the green and yellow of the Brazil national team as playing colors as part of his strategy to lure Pelé, one of that country's star players, to the United States.[10] The club's initial uniform was all green with yellow trim, with the colors reversed on the road uniform. Coincidentally, the colors were the same as those of the previous North American Soccer League team based in New York – the New York Generals – which had folded after the 1968 season.[7] When Pelé did come on board in 1975, the uniform was changed to all-white in imitation of his club in Brazil, Santos. The green and yellow elements were relegated to the trim. The green shirt was concurrently matched with white shorts to became the new away uniform.[31] Uniforms designed by Ralph Lauren were used from 1979 to the end; the home uniform remained all-white, though with navy and yellow trim replacing the green and white trim of the previous outfit. The away uniform became navy shirts and shorts with yellow trim, paired with unusual yellow-and-navy hooped socks, which were later replaced with plain navy blue ones.[28]

The artist commissioned by Toye to design the team's logo was Wayland Moore, a sports artist from Atlanta who had already worked on the logo, uniform and program covers of that city's soccer team, the Chiefs. Moore attempted to create a design that was simple, recognisable and inclusive of New York's many nationalities. The three colored "blades" surrounding the soccer ball in the center represented its movement, while the font originally used was chosen simply because it was easily legible on the uniform.[10][32] The text on the logo was shortened to "Cosmos" in 1977, concurrently with the team's dropping of the "New York" label. The badge remained unchanged despite the readdition of the city's name in 1979.

Stadium and supporters

Season Average
1971 4,517 Yankee Stadium
1972 4,282 Hofstra Stadium
1973 5,782 Hofstra Stadium
1974 3,578 Downing Stadium
1975 10,450 Downing Stadium
1976 18,227 Yankee Stadium
1977 34,142 Giants Stadium
1978 47,856 Giants Stadium
1979 46,690 Giants Stadium
1980 42,754 Giants Stadium
1981 34,835 Giants Stadium
1982 28,479 Giants Stadium
1983 27,242 Giants Stadium
1984 12,817 Giants Stadium

The Cosmos' first home stadium was Yankee Stadium, home to the New York Yankees baseball team, where they played throughout the 1971 season. Attendances during the club's first year averaged at 4,517, less than 7% of the stadium's capacity, which was at that time 65,010. The Cosmos therefore moved before the 1972 season to the 15,000-seater Hofstra Stadium, on the campus of the namesake university 25 miles (40 km) east of metropolitan New York. After two seasons of continuing low crowds at this out-of-town location, the Cosmos moved again, relocating to the 22,500-capacity Downing Stadium before the 1974 season. It was at Downing Stadium that attendances started to rise significantly, buoyed by the arrival of stars such as Pelé, who arrived in 1975. For the Brazilian's first match, the stadium was full; "there must have been another 50,000 turned away", coach Gordon Bradley later claimed.[12]

These larger attendances necessitated another move, which occurred in 1976, when the Cosmos returned to Yankee Stadium. This time the team averaged 18,227 fans over the course of the season, over four times the average 1971 gate. The team then moved yet again before the 1977 season, to the newly built Giants Stadium, where attendances sky-rocketed; crowds peaked at an average of 47,856 during 1978. The Cosmos remained at Giants Stadium for the rest of their time in the NASL. Attendances gradually fell as the league declined during the early 1980s, then finally slumped in 1984, when they dropped by more than half from the 1983 seasonal average.[7]

The largest crowd to attend a Cosmos home game was set in 1977, when the Fort Lauderdale Strikers visited for a playoff match. The game was attended by 77,691 fans,[11] which, at the time, was a record for American soccer.[33] The lowest average attendance for a season was 3,578, in 1974.[7] As of 2011, only Hofstra Stadium remains, now renamed James M. Shuart Stadium. Downing Stadium, the original Yankee Stadium and Giants Stadium were demolished in 2002, 2008 and 2010 respectively.[34][35][36]


We transcended everything, every culture, every socio-economic boundary. We were international, we were European, we were cool, we were Americans from the Bronx. We were everything to everybody.
Shep Messing, speaking in 2006[12]

The Cosmos sought to maximize their fanbase by appealing to as wide a demographic as possible. The club's name and badge were designed to be inclusive of New York's many immigrant communities; the logo purposefully avoided the standard American red, white and blue. In this the Cosmos succeeded, attracting noticeable support from local Europeans, Middle-Easterners and South Americans. The association of the team with the city's high society in both social and sporting contexts led to it becoming very popular among celebrities, both American and international.[11][12][32][37]


The New York Cosmos are famous for having fielded numerous well-known players, almost all of whom were from outside the United States: Examples include Pelé, Franz Beckenbauer and Carlos Alberto.[38] American players of note include goalkeeper Shep Messing – who was notoriously sold after posing nude for a magazine in December 1974, then brought back two years later on Pelé's insistence.[38] The Cosmos also fielded Werner Roth, a Yugoslavian-born US international defender, from 1972 to 1979. A number of Cosmos players were named in the NASL all-star teams selected by the league at the end of each season.[39][40] No NASL all-star from the Cosmos was born in the United States or Canada, where all of the league's teams were based; apart from Roth, both North Americans selected – Siegfried Stritzl and John Kerr – were born in Yugoslavia and Scotland respectively.[41]

Retired numbers

Head coaches

Name Country From To Notes
Bradley, GordonGordon Bradley  United States 01971 1971 01975 1975 Player-coach[4]
Furphy, KenKen Furphy  England 01976 1976 01976 1976 [4]
Bradley, GordonGordon Bradley  United States 01976 1976 01977 1977 [4]
Firmani, EddieEddie Firmani  Italy 01977 1977 01979 1979 [4][14]
Klivecka, RayRay Klivecka  United States 01979 1979 01979 1979 [18]
Mazzei, JúlioJúlio Mazzei  Brazil 01979 1979 01980 1980 [15]
Weisweiler, HennesHennes Weisweiler  West Germany 01980 1980 01981 1981 Joint with
Yasin Özdenak  Turkey 01980 1980 01981 1981 Joint with
Mazzei, JúlioJúlio Mazzei  Brazil 01982 1982 01983 1983 [15][43]
Firmani, EddieEddie Firmani  Italy 01984 1984 01984 1984 [18]
Birkenmeier, HubertHubert Birkenmeier  West Germany 01984 1984 01984 1984 Caretaker[18]
Klivecka, RayRay Klivecka  United States 01984 1984 01985 1985 [18]

The New York Cosmos' first head coach was the English-American professional Gordon Bradley, who had played in the English Football League's lower divisions during the 1950s prior to moving to North America in 1963. Bradley came out of retirement to become player-coach, a role he retained until his departure in 1975. Bradley's team won the league championship in 1972, but after it failed to reach the playoffs in both 1974 and 1975, he was dismissed. His replacement was another Englishman, Ken Furphy. His Cosmos succeeded in reaching the post-season, but lost the divisional championship game to Vancouver, prompting Furphy's own departure in favor of a return for Bradley, whose second spell lasted only half a season before he was promoted to an advisory role. Eddie Firmani, the South African-born former Italy forward, took over midway through the 1977 season.[14] His star-studded team won two consecutive Soccer Bowls – 1977 and 1978 – but lost the National Conference championship game in 1979. Firmani lost his job after falling out with Giorgio Chinaglia, a favorite of the Cosmos hierarchy.[14] His assistant, Ray Klivecka, became the team's first American-born head coach when he took Firmani's place midway through 1979.

Klivecka was replaced before the 1980 season by Brazilian coach Júlio Mazzei, who won the Cosmos' fourth title at the end of that campaign before being succeeded by two joint head coaches, Hennes Weisweiler & Yasin Özdenak, in 1980. This duo's team came second in the 1981 NASL before Mazzei returned in 1982 and won his second championship with the Cosmos during that year. Firmani returned in 1984, the NASL's final year, in which the Cosmos failed to make the playoffs. Firmani remained as the team entered the Major Indoor Soccer League for the 1984–85 season, but was fired in early December, halfway through the season, and replaced by Klivecka, who returned after two games under the caretaker management of goalkeeper Hubert Birkenmeier. Klivecka was retained until the team ceased competitive play.[18]


The Cosmos won the 1982 Soccer Bowl at San Diego-Jack Murphy Stadium, now known as Qualcomm Stadium, pictured in 2005.

With five championships and seven first-place finishes, the Cosmos still rank as the most successful franchise in the history of North American soccer.[7][44]

Honor Year(s)
North American Soccer League Champions 1972, 1977, 1978, 1980, 1982
Runners-up 1981
Regular season titles 1972, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983
Conference titles 1977, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1982
Divisional titles 1972, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983
North American Soccer League Indoor Runners-Up 1983–84
Trans-Atlantic Cup Winners 1980, 1983, 1984
Runners-up 1981, 1982


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  6. ^ The North American Soccer League operated a "points" system whereby a goal earned two points and an assist one.
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  41. ^ "John Kerr". Retrieved 2011-01-20. 
  42. ^ "Heritage". New York, New York: New York Cosmos. Retrieved 2011-09-30. 
  43. ^ a b c "Cosmos to Retain Mazzei". The New York Times (New York, New York). 1983-02-01. Retrieved 2011-01-21. 
  44. ^ Litterer, David. "American Soccer History Archives". American Soccer History Archives. Retrieved 2011-01-20. 

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