- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 13, 2006

The recently wrapped World Cup caused nary a ripple in the United States. Our team earned a quick dismissal, television ratings remained a fraction of what the Super Bowl draws, and soccer fans once more mocked our lack of love for the world’s biggest sport.

We weren’t always so cavalier about soccer.

“Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos” recalls soccer’s heyday in the States, a raucous chapter in our sports history that many have long since forgotten.

Co-directors Paul Crowder and John Dower have an extraordinary tale on their hands, and they tell it with affection and panache. “Lifetime” overflows with interviews, game snippets and period tunes but never feels forced. (Why its distributors opted to open it today, instead of weeks ago, when it could have capitalized on World Cup interest, is the ultimate head scratcher.)

It all started with a ragtag group of players who formed the NASL (North American Soccer League) in the early 1970s. The players were a pale shadow of their international counterparts, and they played to empty, broken down stadiums.

Some workers spray painted green over patches of mud to make the fields look lush.

Steve Ross, chairman of once mighty Warner Communications, saw soccer as a breakout sport if properly packaged. His New York Cosmos would prove his instincts sound, but it took buckets of money.

The biggest star, of course, was Pele. The Brazilian soccer god had retired from competition in 1974, but Mr. Ross pulled every string imaginable, even wrangling then Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger to put the squeeze on Pele’s homeland to make him a Cosmo.

Pele lived up to the hype, scoring goals and causing commotions wherever he went. But Mr. Ross wasn’t done. He added a series of international stars to the roster, from Italian superstar Giorgio Chinaglia to German giant Franz Beckenbauer.

New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner is a piker next to the late business tycoon.

The team eventually found its footing, and the Big Apple opened its arms to the team and its players. More than 77,000 watched the Cosmos compete in the finals, a number teams like D.C. United can only dream about these days.

In the team’s prime, Mick Jagger proudly called himself a Cosmos groupie, and the players spent as much time in fabled Studio 54 as they did on the field.

“Lifetime” lets the players do much of the storytelling, and there isn’t a dullard in the lot. Take former goalie Shep Messing, who grins about his long-ago Playgirl magazine spread meant to spike interest in the sport — and likely enlarge his dating pool.

A cultural anthropologist could read reams into “Lifetime”: The Cosmos represent the U.S., bullying its way to domination through marketing, money and global strength. And the team itself is the ultimate melting pot, at one time comprising players from 14 different nations working together toward a common goal, no pun intended.

The only voice we don’t hear is that of Pele, and the silence is deafening. It’s clear the film also leaves out some key elements concerning the league’s eventual demise.

“Lifetime” is warmhearted, feisty and never dull. It’s a valentine to both the sport and the men who tried so valiantly to impart their love of it to a nation.


TITLE: “Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos”

RATING: PG-13 (Mild profanity, partial nudity and alcohol use)

CREDITS: Directed by Paul Crowder and John Dower. Narrated by Matt Dillon.

RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes

WEB SITE: https://www.onceinalifetime-movie.com/


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