Pele pumped for return of N.Y. Cosmos
Marching into the Four Seasons Hotel, Brazilian soccer legend and New York Cosmos' honorary team president Pelé stopped just short of the podium and peered up at team head coach Giovanni Saravese. Pelé, the only man in history to win three World Cups, reached for Saravese to assist him up the final two steps leading to his seat at center stage.
But as Pelé made his way to the podium, the crowd of Cosmos' management, current and former players silenced in anticipation of his reflections on his former team's return to professional soccer on Aug. 3 in the second-coming of the North American Soccer League.
"I played 25-years in Santos. We won a lot of tournaments. The World Cup, I scored a lot of goals," Pelé said in a broken English accent. "It's amazing. I arrive in China, I arrive in Africa they say 'Listen, what happened to [the] New York Cosmos?' "
The Cosmos acquired a then-34-year-old Pelé at the tail end of his career in 1975 and benefited not only from his 31 goals over three seasons, but also saw the team's brand skyrocket to the forefront of the world soccer stage.
Pelé retired in 1977, and with his departure, the national media's interest in the NASL waned dramatically, which led to the league's demise following the 1984 season.
Cosmos' chairman Seamus O"Brien said that the team's partnership with Emirates Airlines, along with its recognizable brand name makes him confident in his organization's ability to compete for public notoriety with Major League Soccer's Red Bulls and New York City FC, which will join the MLS in 2015.
"I think [North America] will be the world's biggest soccer market in my lifetime," O'Brien said. "Three teams in the largest metropolitan city? That's not a problem."
The 2013 version of the Cosmos will play their home games at Hofstra this summer while they await for approval of a privately funded 25,000 seat stadium to be built at Belmont Park. O'Brien hopes the stadium is ready by 2015, but did not rule out that by the time the stadium is functional, the Cosmos may no longer be members of the NASL.
O'Brien says that he has been in regular contact with MLS commissioner Dan Garber regarding securing membership in the MLS in the near future.
"We plan to get to the top and as I said, you don't do that in year one," O'Brien said.
In order to reach the top, the Cosmos are in the process of signing former Spanish national team member and current Villareal midfielder Marcos Senna, who has five goals in 31 games this season and turns 37 in July.
Regardless of which brand name players the team manages to lure away from Europe, and even through the team's five championships in the old NASL, O'Brien admits that his team will not be afforded the opportunity to rest on the laurels of those who came before them and that it's imperative not only to live up to the expectations placed on them by past success, but to re-establish the organization's presence as a prominent member of the New York sports landscape.
"We must earn every bit of respect and credibility that is afforded to us, in this, the very highly competitive sporting city of New York," O'Brien said.