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How Pele Tarnished America's View of Soccer

AP Photo

On October 1, 1977, more than 75,000 fans, including Muhammad Ali, packed into Giants Stadium and millions more tuned into ABC's "Wide World of Sports" to watch the final professional soccer match played by Edison Arantes do Nascimento. The 37-year-old Brazilian, known to the world as Pelé, spent the first 45 minutes in a Cosmos uniform—scoring a free kick minutes before the referee blew his whistle—and the second half wearing the jersey of the only other club he ever played for, São Paulo's Santos. That match was the peak of soccer in America, a demonstration of what the sport could be in a country that never much cared for it.

 

But the popularity of the Cosmos also created an impossible standard for future leagues, a one-off opportunity that could never be...

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