American soccer, much like chivalry, is not dead – it just has a gaping chest wound.
Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos, tries its best to deny this fact by inflating the influence of soccer’s knight in yellow armor, Pele, on the sport in the United States.
This much-touted documentary, which was previewed during the 2006 World Cup, follows the New York Cosmos soccer team as it sells out NFL stadiums and ignites widespread fanfare throughout the country.
Giants Stadium circa 1977 would have been a soccer fan’s fantasy land, as players such as Pele, often considered the best soccer player to live; Franz Beckenbauer, one of Germany’s best; and Italian prima donna Giorgio Chinaglia took the field.
This unlikely American dream team was the result of Warner Brothers Communications Chair Steve Ross’ unfaltering devotion to the world’s most popular sport.
With the addition of PelÃ©, the world was forced to take notice of an American soccer team for the first time since the 1950 World Cup defeat of England.
PelÃ© became the highest-paid athlete in history, and the North American Soccer League became so popular that ABC hoped to cash in, signing a national television contract that turned players into celebrities.
The members of the Cosmos hobnobbed with movie and record industry stars at Studio 54 at the height of New York’s disco-era decadence. The team became so engulfed in this lifestyle that it nearly fell apart.
The documentary does a good job of creating that setting.
The players’ celebrity status didn’t last, however, as the collective Sesame Street-attention span of the American public waned. After the retirement of PelÃ© and just one season of televised glory, the league faded into relative obscurity until its ultimate demise.
Unfortunately, Paul and John Crowder, the documentary’s directors, didn’t get the memo. Americans still don’t seem to enjoy soccer, despite its international appeal and free-flowing splendor. They point out this country’s lack of attention span, but constantly refer to the Cosmos as America’s soccer saviors.
As Major League Soccer is bumped from ESPN for dominos tournaments and bowling, it’s hard to see how PelÃ© and company saved the beautiful game.
The monotone narration of Matt Dillon reflects the overall antipathy that surrounds the MLS, which more closely resembles the WNBA than, say, the NFL.
While the documentary takes a giant leap in assuming the Cosmos as a soccer messiah, it doesn’t assume much else. The exact figure of PelÃ©’s salary cannot be nailed down – same with finding out who came up with the idea of hiring him.
The clash of egos plays well both in and out of the locker room as the star-studded players clash over missed goals and lost games. One set of egos highlights the other as the team nearly falls apart.
Overall, the documentary holds the interest of the most casual of soccer fans and inspires goose bumps in the hardcore enthusiast.