The New York Cosmos played their first season in 1971 and became a New Jersey team in 1977. After the arrival of Pele in their fifth year (1975), the team had experienced an attendance boom that precipitated a one-year move to Yankee Stadium. After playing their 1976 home games in the Bronx, the Cosmos made Giants Stadium at the Meadowlands their new home.
The Cosmos were the gem of the North American Soccer League. They boasted several international stars, including Italian striker Giorgio Chinaglia, arguably the NASL’s best player. Among the players who joined the Cosmos during their years in Jersey were defensive stars Carlos Alberto and Franz Beckenbauer. In October of 1977, Pele played his final match. The Cosmos hosted Brazil and Pele (left) played one half for each team. At season’s end, Beckenbauer won the Golden Ball as NASL MVP.
Later that fall, the team won its first of three NASL titles. They finished second to the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers in the Eastern Division, but defeated them in the playoffs before a then-record crowd of 77,691. They went on to beat the Seattle Sounders 2–1 in the Soccer Bowl championship, with Chinaglia netting the game-winner with 13 minutes left.
Chinaglia scored 34 goals in 30 games in 1978 and netted the deciding goal as the Cosmos defeated the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the Soccer Bowl 3–1. The Cosmos had the NASL’s best record in 1979, but fell to the Vancouver Whitecaps 2–1 in the semifinals. The Whitecaps went on to beat Tampa Bay for the championship. The Cosmos returned to the top of the NASL in 1980, winning the Soccer Bowl again. Chingalia scored a stunning 50 goals during the regular season and playoffs. However, the triumph was bittersweet. The league was struggling with attendance in most cities and ABC did not renew its TV contract.
The Cosmos struggled to make their payroll in the 1980s. Its corporate owner, Warner Communications, was targeted by Rupert Murdoch in a hostile takeover bid and had to sell off assets to defend itself. One of those assets was the Cosmos. Chinaglia stepped up and bought the Cosmos, but did not have the deep pockets to fulfill the lucrative commitments Warner had made to its star players. Chinaglia sold off several teammates. The Cosmos won their final NASL championship in 1982. They defeated Seattle in the Soccer Bowl, 1–0. Chinaglia scored the game’s lone goal.
The NASL folded after the 1984 season. The Cosmos continued briefly as an indoor soccer team at the Meadowlands’ Byrne Arena, but ceased operation due to low attendance.
Cosmos Award Winners 1977 to 1984
Golden Ball (MVP) • 1977 Franz Beckenbauer
Golden Ball (MVP) • 1981 Giorgio Chinaglia