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New York Cosmos salute Pele's 'inestimable' impact on soccer

George Tiedemann / Sports Illustrated / Getty

New York, Dec 29, 2022 (AFP) - Brazilian football icon Pele, who brought the "beautiful game" to America in the 1970s and became a sensation with the New York Cosmos, was hailed by the club Thursday as a "genius" player who transformed the sport.

"Pele's name will forever be synonymous with sporting artistry and genius," the Cosmos said in a statement posted on their website.

"His lasting impact on the sport of soccer is inestimable. Rest in peace, O Rei."

Pele, who died Thursday at age 82, played for the Cosmos from 1975-1977 after an epic career with Santos and World Cup titles with Brazil in 1958, 1962, and 1970.

After conquering the football world, Pele faced a very different challenge when he was sought by the overshadowed Cosmos in the seldom-noticed North American Soccer League to try to build excitement for football in America, long dominated by the NFL, NBA, and Major League Baseball.

Pele became an electric attraction, bringing celebrities and huge crowds to see the Cosmos, many of them paying attention to the sport for the first time.

The Cosmos moved to baseball's famed Yankee Stadium and later the NFL's Meadowlands to handle the throngs hungry to watch Pele even in his later years.

They assembled a global all-star squad with Italy's Giorgio Chinaglia, Germany's Franz Beckenbauer and Brazilian Carlos Alberto to perform alongside the legend, who took the NASL title in his playoff finale with the Cosmos.

Pele's final game was an October 1977 exhibition between Cosmos and Santos in which he played the first half for Cosmos and the second half for Santos, closing out his career with his Brazilian side. The Cosmos won 2-1 and Pele netted his final goal.

While the Cosmos legend would fade with Pele's departure and the NASL would fold, it was Pele's spark that led to the longer-lasting success enjoyed today by Major League Soccer.

"Pele helped transform the domestic landscape of the sport of soccer," the Cosmos said. "Where once there had been baseball diamonds, now there were also soccer pitches."

The Cosmos also became a team that made global tours and Pele drew crowds worldwide, creating memories and stories for generations.

"The Cosmos and their King not only started a sporting revolution in America, they also traveled the world to spread the Gospel of the Beautiful Game, representing the world's most global city at the global game, leaving a lasting sporting legacy in India, China, and Japan, where their visits remain a cherished part of local sporting lore," the Cosmos said.

New York Cosmos salute Pele's 'inestimable' impact on soccer
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