When Soccer Ruled the World (Including the USA)

by Alan Rapp on September 1, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos
  • IMDb: link

once-in-a-lifetime-posterThe film focuses on the rise, short glory, and disastrous fall, of the New York Cosmos – the first, and maybe last, great soccer team in American history.  Founded by Steve Ross, the Cosmos were the first Dream Team to play on American soil.  With soccer greats Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, and Giorgio Chinaglia, they broke into the minds and hearts of New Yorkers and across America.

Narrated by Matt Dillon the film takes a look at the barren soccer landscape of America in the early 1970’s and the one man who tried to change it single-handedly.  Warner Bros. Chairman Steve Ross had a dream, and his dream was soccer in America.  To get that dream he brought the biggest stars of the day to America and made soccer into a national story.

The film talks with the players from the Cosmos and the short lived NASL, remembering the early days and the arrival of Pele and the short lived glory days that followed.  In the midst of blackouts, riots, and the Son of Sam, the celebrity boom kicked in and the Cosmos was there to cash in.

The tale weaved by the documentary is one of dream that was achieved at all cost and eventually those costs began to be too high.  The team and league would fade into obscurity as quickly as they had emerged due to greed, controversy, and the rising costs of the superstar heavy Cosmos dominating the news, and not living up to such high expectations.

Filled with archival footage and interviews with those who played in, and ran, the league the documentary gives a vivid account of the days of glory, debauchery, and destruction.  Filled with 70’s music and 70’s style caption and title cards, it’s a celebration of days long gone by.

As much an insider look as we will get on the issue, the documentary takes a frank look at the good and bad of the league and the lasting effects of soccer in the USA today.  I would have liked to hear from Pele (who declined to be interviewed for the piece) but the interviews with Giorgio Chinaglia paint a vivid picture of the greed and pride that helped destroy the NASL when it was still in its infancy.

Though the life of the Cosmos was short, their legacy lives on.  Today’s soccer movement can be directly attributed to the Cosmos and their early success.  Many of today’s greats including Mia Hamm watched the Cosmos as children.  The documentary does its job in giving us a piece of our past and reminding us of a time, however brief, when we didn’t think that futbol thing was so crazy after all.

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