‘Once in a Lifetime’


For a brief, shining moment in the late 1970s, soccer was a hot ticket in America. At their peak, the New York Cosmos drew 77,000 fans to Giants Stadium, and their aging but charismatic stars—Brazilian legend Pelé, Italian schemer Giorgio Chinaglia, unflappable German Franz Beckenbauer—were the toasts of the town, especially at Studio 54, which served as the team training room. This intermittently fascinating documentary chronicles the rise and fall of the Cosmos—which is also the rise and fall of U.S. soccer. The tragicomedy stars Cosmos owner Steve Ross (then chairman of Warner Communications) as the blinkered hero, Pelé as the faltering god, and Chinaglia as the dark-eyed villain. Will soccer ever make a comeback here? Not unless Americans decide to watch it on TV: Witnesses for the prosecution would like to blame Chinaglia, but ABC Sports’ dismal soccer ratings in 1979 spelled the doom of the Cosmos and the North American Soccer League just five years later.