The New York Cosmos have released a statement in honor of their former player Pele, the legendary Brazilian who died Thursday at the age of 82 after a long battle with colon cancer.
The Cosmos statement read: ‘The New York Cosmos family, past and present, grieve the loss of sporting icon Pele. The Brazilian legend passed away today (Thursday) at the age of 82.
‘Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento in the city of Tres Coracoes, Pele would become one of the world’s most celebrated figures.
‘He made his professional soccer debut with Santos at the age of 15 and would go on to score over a thousand goals and win the FIFA World Cup three times before turning 30.
‘In 1975, Pele joined the New York Cosmos and helped popularize soccer across the United States. O Rei treated fans to numerous legendary moments on the pitch, including scoring a hat-trick to win the 1977 NASL Soccer Bowl.
‘During three seasons with the Cosmos, Pele helped transform the domestic landscape of the sport of soccer. Where once there had been baseball diamonds, now there were also soccer pitches.
‘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.
‘His last game as a professional footballer was played on October 1, 1977, before a sold-out crowd at Giants Stadium and a global television audience.
‘Pele played one half each for the only two clubs he ever represented, Santos and the New York Cosmos.
‘Pele’s name will forever be synonymous with sporting artistry and genius. His lasting impact on the sport of soccer is inestimable. Rest in peace, O Rei.’
Pele joined the NASL team in 1975 after leaving Brazilian club Santos for them. This move means he increased the popularity of soccer in the United States by playing there.
He was allegedly coming off his third World Cup win in 1970, when the newly formed club in the fledgling North American Soccer league called.
Pele wasn’t interested at the time, but he would relent five years later to sign a three-year deal reportedly worth an astounding $7million – $2m of which was used to pay his Brazilian tax bill.
But according to Pele, it wasn’t the money that convinced him to come out of semiretirement to help popularize soccer in the US – it was Henry Kissinger.
‘I am sure your stay in the United States will substantially contribute to closer ties between Brazil and the US,’ the former US Secretary of State told him, as quoted by Pele on Twitter.
Making their debut in 1971, the NASL’s fourth season, the Cosmos went practically unnoticed in the Bronx, averaging 4,517 fans at Yankee Stadium.
They would soon move to Hofstra University’s field on Long Island, where they averaged only 4,282 and 5,782 fans in 1972 and 1973, respectively.
But it wasn’t until Pele’s arrival in 1975 that the team began to make inroads with New Yorkers.
CBS broadcast Pele’s first match at Downing Stadium on the city’s Randall Island, where dirt was spray painted green to give the illusion of grass to television audiences.
By 1977, Pele’s final season with the team, the Cosmos were averaging 34,142 fans a game at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
In fact, they did even better after his retirement, averaging 47,856 fans a game the following season.
The Cosmos would win NASL titles in 1977, with Pele, and again in 1978 and 1980.
The three-time World Cup winner passed away from colon cancer on Thursday after he was rushed to hospital when the disease advanced on December 21.
The Brazil legend had to stay in the hospital over Christmas as he needed treatment for cardiac and renal dysfunction.
He had previously been admitted to the hospital on November 30 with ‘decompensated heart failure’ before passing away a month later.
US fans has also poured in their tributes for ‘The King’: ‘Pele in New York was like when the Beatles came to America’
USMNT winger Tim Weah said his tribute on Instagram: ‘Thank you for paving the way for young black men like myself to believe that anything is possible if you dream big.
‘You will forever be in our hearts. Thank you for changing my life and inspiring me to continue believing in my abilities.’
Former US President Barack Obama has offered his condolences, also:
‘Pele was one of the greatest to ever play the beautiful game. And as one of the most recognizable athletes in the world, he understood the power of sports to bring people together,’ he wrote.
‘Our thoughts are with his family and everyone who loved and admired him.’
Even, US Women’s national team World Cup winner Carli Lloyd tweeted: ‘Icon. Legend. Goat. RIP Pele.’
Former USMNT midfielder and Houston Dynamo coach Tab Ramos ‘follows’ the tribute and said: ‘GREATEST OF ALL TIME. Carried The Beautiful Game on his shoulders and always with class. Rest in Peace.’
Pele’s funeral to be held on Monday and Tuesday at the home of Santos. The ceremony will continue until 10am on Tuesday, January 3, when the parade will take place through the streets of Santos.