Part I of the Original Series
"Curator of the Cosmos: A Conversation with G. Peppe Pinton"
What happens when you gather all of the world's greatest players and assemble them on the pitch? You have the greatest team that ever played soccer here in America: the New York Cosmos. The Cosmos roster looked more like the Soccer Hall of Fame than a professional club. Pelé, Chinaglia, Beckenbauer, Alberto, and Bogicevic are just a few members of this "dream team" of international soccer.
We recently had the privilege to speak with one of the key figures in the Cosmos organization. G. Peppe Pinton's official title is President and CEO of the Cosmos Soccer Club, Inc. However, Pinton is so much more than that. He has been there for the biggest moments in American soccer. He has forged friendships with the world's greatest players. Pinton has been an executive, a coach, a soccer ambassador, and most importantly the caretaker of the Cosmos legacy.
Pinton shared some great moments from America's first major soccer league, the North American Soccer League (NASL). There were many special moments and spectacular events. In reality, he had fond memories of Pelé's first game at Giants Stadium. Pinton described this as "the beginning of something beautiful". The excitement didn't stop in New York; it continued to Seattle and Tampa Bay and then the world.
Pinton has to be the best source for the history of the New York Cosmos. He has faithfully defended the Cosmos brand for over two decades. He made it clear that the Cosmos were not to blame for the collapse of the NASL as many have suggested. To the contrary, they served as pioneers that paved the way for soccer in America. Pelé, Giorgio Chinaglia, Franz Beckenbauer, and the many other stars actually made it possible for David Beckham to come to Major League Soccer (MLS). Without the star cast of the Cosmos, millions of American kids would not have been inspired to play soccer here. Anyone from age 30-100 will remember the Cosmos with great enthusiasm. This affection is held by many worldwide as New York became the 2nd team of every soccer fan.
The Beckham signing brought much excitement to MLS. It also took the focus back to the many memories of the New York Cosmos. Pinton thought this move was "absolutely a good thing for the league," but was quick to turn away comparisons to his team. His words are very clear: "Beckham is not Pele. The Galaxy are not the Cosmos." There is much support for this comment considering Chinaglia and Beckenbauer came to the NASL in their prime. Many believe that Beckham's best years are behind him. The Cosmos signed the best the world had to offer, creating the "dream team of soccer in the world". New York was clearly ahead of its time and was indeed responsible for the globalization of soccer teams. They were able to field a diverse team with players from many nations. This team quickly became the envy of the world; Cosmos fever caught the attention of casual and hardcore fans alike. Pinton appreciates what MLS has done, but the achievements of the NASL and the Cosmos must not ignored. The media kept referring back to the Cosmos when David Beckham was signed. There is this longing for something better, a sense of nostalgia for a league that had achieved greatness.
The NASL looked like a league that would last forever. Pinton recalls the record crowds in 1976 and 1977. He spoke about the importance of the ABC television contract and recalled the front page headlines in The New York Times. Enthusiasm, excitement, and pride could be found throughout the league. Then everything came tumbling down and eventually the league ceased to exist at all. Pinton helped pick up the pieces and keep the Cosmos organization alive. He points out that "the Cosmos never ceased to be an entity". He has guarded that legacy and tradition for over 20 years.
What could have saved the league from disaster? There is one simple answer: the 1986 FIFA World Cup. Pinton believed that the World Cup should have come to America when the league was still alive. It was very ironic that the World Cup would come here in 1990 in the absence of a professional soccer league.
The Cup could have been "a bailout" that would have saved the NASL. The money and commitment were already there, but the desire and drive of the fans was waning. A successful World Cup here in the states would equal survival for the league. That obviously didn't happen. Pinton remembers this as a terrible disappointment, " a total slap in the face" for all those involved in American soccer.
Pinton's friendship with Giorgio Chinaglia is well-documented. Pinton stated that he had a "marvelous, marvelous life in soccer here and in Europe" because of Chinaglia, who was a true star on this "dream team". Chinaglia was popular on and off the field for many reasons. He showed dedication and commitment, embraced the media, spoke the language of soccer, and most importantly, scored goals. His attitude was simple: I play for you; I put the ball in the net. This went a long way with American fans as they wanted to see high-scoring, exciting games. It is hard to argue with Pinton's suggestion that players like Chinaglia don't exist anymore. Chinaglia struck the ball with such power and often with a single touch. He punished goalkeepers after evading two and sometimes three defenders. He was an impressive physical specimen, but also possessed superior intelligence. Chinaglia proved to be one of the finest players to ever play here in America.
The most important observation that came from this discussion is the need for the Cosmos to emerge once again. MLS got a spark from the Beckham signing; the league could see an explosion of popularity with the return of the Cosmos. There have been numerous stories about a second team coming to New York City. According to Pinton, this team could and should be the Cosmos. "Why not the Cosmos?" is the rallying cry heard by so many. It is a proven brand, one that brings back a sense of tradition and excellence. Pinton suggests that the Cosmos are even more recognized than David Beckham. Imagine the stories and television coverage that would come from the re-emergence of the Cosmos. ESPN reported that 1,468,000 people tuned in to see David Beckham's first appearance with the L.A. Galaxy. A new Cosmos team could easily bring in two to three times that amount. Why you might ask? The Cosmos represent the best that American soccer could offer, a happier time when players competed for the right reasons and the game had a feeling of purity. So many people remember the Cosmos; many would be willing to buy a ticket, tune in to a game, or purchase merchandise. MLS has done little to remember the Cosmos and the NASL. Now is the time to embrace the legacy of the soccer world and to glorify the greatest team we have ever known: the New York Cosmos.
No one wants to see the failure of Major League Soccer. These are difficult times, which require difficult decisions. Bringing back the Cosmos is not difficult, but it may be necessary to save the league and American soccer as we know it.
Part II-Kevin Milliken
Part III-Mark Geissbauer
Part IV-Grant Wahl
Part V-Steve Bell