The I.S.A. Collection

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Birth of The Cosmos: New York's 40th Anniversary - Part 1

The International Soccer Archives series chronicling the 40th Anniversary of the New York Cosmos features several "firsts"including artifacts and interviews.


Arguably the most famous club in American soccer history, the New York Cosmos, still carry the prestige of international respect around the world. The team that played its last league game over a quarter century ago remains, to some, a cherished memory. To others, a mere curiosity. 

Recently the club has attempted to resurrect itself from the ruins of the North American Soccer League (NASL) and the giant shadow that it cast in the late 1970's and early 1980's.

Last year the I.S.A. was invited to visit the current Cosmos offices located in the heart of New York City. As historians we had the opportunity to assess and identify the collection of memorabilia acquired during the club's 15 seasons of competition. Considering their short existence, the team amassed a wealth of trophies and awards during that brief period of time which included 5 NASL Championships and 2 runners up spots.

In total, the I.S.A. examined over 300 artifacts from player jerseys to match programs. The items from the Cosmos many world tours were by far the most engaging. These included a pair of engraved swords (from Spain), a hand-carved wooden female bust (Africa) and a quartz clock inside a tree trunk (Japan).

However, the most mysterious piece had to be a small silver bowl which seemed to have lost its luster. Made by the TOWLE Silversmith Company (Mass.), best known as the official silverware pattern maker for the U.S. Embassies world-wide, it stands just 5 inches tall and 8 inches in width.

(photo: New York Governor's Cup. International Soccer Archives copyright 2010)

Although it is generally believed that the New York Cosmos won their first trophy in 1972, the legend has them winning another NASL competition in their inaugural season. 

Turning back the clock to the 1971 Cosmos,  the NASL's newest club became the second team in New York State. The first New Yorkers were the Rochester Lancers - the defending NASL Champions.  

In honor of being the only state to have two franchises in professional soccer at the time, New York Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller decreed an inter-state competition. The Governor,  a former soccer star at Dartmouth College, donated a silver decoration bowl to the annual winner between the Empire State teams. 

The Lancer and the Cosmos met 4 times during the 1971 NASL season. The Cosmos' results of those four meetings were as follows:

May 30 @ Rochester 2:2 tie (goals: Randy Horton - 2)
June 9 @ New York 4:2 win (Horton, Willie Mfum - 3)
July 10 @ Rochester 2:3 loss (Charlie McCully, Jorge Siega)
August 2 @ New York 3:2 win (Barry Mahy, McCully, Mfum)

The significance of the final match in the series was lost until later years. Playing their home games in legendary Yankee Stadium, the usual 4,000 to 6,000 were swelled to 20,000 by the international exhibition match that would follow the Cosmos-Lancers game. Cali of Colombia met Santos of Brazil - led by a future Cosmos star by the name of Pele. He had recently retired from the National Team of Brazil and was now touring the world with the only club team for which he had ever played.

Although the the awarding of the Governor's Cup to the Cosmos was overshadowed by the presence of Pele, it was reported in a small ethnic newspaper called the Ukranian Weekly. This was largely due to the fact that most of the inaugural season Cosmos came from the German-American soccer league. Both Charlie McCully and Willie Mfum played for the Ukranians in that circuit.

The New York Cosmos would retain the Governor's Cup trophy in their Championship year of 1972. They would loose possession of the cup in 1973 and 1974, although it was by toss of the coin the first time.

(photo: 1973 Rochester Lancers. International Soccer Archives copyright 2011)

Rochester would parade the Governor's Cup (above) as the league and the Cosmos grew in prominence and popularity. In 1975 the Cosmos did the impossible and signed the great Pele to a multi-million dollar contract. The NASL divisional schedule and conference alignment made the pairings for this competition  obsolete. The Cosmos took the final series two games to three in 1975. Although there is not official proclamation, the tiny cup is also the first trophy collected by Pele with the New York Cosmos. 

In 1974 Governor Rockefeller would become the 41st Vice-President of the United States. In 1977 the Cosmos would win their 2nd NASL Championship in  Pele's final season. The Rochester Lancers would play their last game in 1980. By then the world famous Cosmos would boast of an international all-star line-up and tour every continent collecting gifts and memories to last a lifetime. 

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