As the story goes, runaway spending drove the organization into the ground, and with it, a golden opportunity to stake soccer’s claim on the American sporting landscape.
But that is only one side of the story. Former New York Cosmos midfielder Carlos Alberto sees things differently. Much differently. In fact, he is adamant that history has it all wrong.
“Nobody here knows why football stopped here in 1985. Nobody,” Alberto told EoS.
“But I know,” he proclaimed, “because I was involved with it.”
According to Alberto, the downward spiral for the NASL, and with it, soccer in the United States, wasn’t due to overspending and budgets-gone-wild. It was FIFA’s decision award the ’86 World Cup to Mexico instead of the front-running United States.
That in itself isn’t news. After all, many know the story behind the failed 1983 bid, but few know just how much the Cosmos were willing to invest in the growing American game if they had won the rights.
Carlos Alberto does, and had history been different, the landscape for U.S. Soccer may have been as well.
“In 1982, FIFA chose Colombia to host the 1986 World Cup,” Alberto recalled. “At that time, it was one World Cup in Europe followed by one in America; South America mostly. The government of Colombia said no – we don’t have the conditions to host the World Cup. Then they offered it to Brazil and they said they don’t have the conditions. Then the United States said ‘I want this World Cup.’
“(Time Warner CEO and Cosmos owner) Mr. Steve Ross was the leader to bring the World Cup. (The Football World) in 1982 said there was no chance for the others; the World Cup would be here in the United States.”’
With momentum stemming from a still-successful NASL and international backing seemingly on their side, Ross and company began to forge a plan that would tie the NASL in with the ’86 World Cup.
It would be a last ditch effort to establish the game in the United States for the long haul.
“If we had the 1986 World Cup in United States, not in 1994 … the World Cup the Americans wanted to have was 1986. If it was here, I would be here until today. I wouldn’t go back to Brazil,” Alberto said.
“You know why? Because Steve Ross and the Cosmos made a list of the 26 best players in the world. I was involved in talks with some players. They made the list of the 26 best players in the world (to acquire). It doesn’t matter how much the transfer would cost because back then, they had a lot of money.”
That list contained a virtual who’s who of the greatest names in soccer history including Maradona, Zico, Junior and Falcao to name a few. In typical Cosmos style, they were already reaching out to players to gauge interest before they were even awarded the World Cup tournament.
“The contact with Falcao, I made,” Alberto said. “He played for Roma. I called him.
“Can you imagine the 26 best players in the world playing here in the United States? Could you imagine what that would mean for football in the United States?”
The linchpin for the plan, of course, would be the award of the World Cup. Ross was wary about investing more cash into the NASL without a larger endgame.
“Unfortunately, FIFA decided to give it to Mexico. Steve Ross was very disappointed and he said ‘it’s finished for me, football. I don’t want to be involved anymore,’” Alberto said. “Steve Ross decided – no more football in this country. I say it because I was there!”
With his dream crushed, Ross let the NASL die a slow death. Alberto recalls the team allowing Franz Beckenbauer to play a final year but refused to add any players of note to help their on-field performance. Due to the devastation of the bid itself, Ross, a fixture at Cosmos matches, even went so far as to stop attending games
“It’s what killed football here,” he said. “Not salary because they had a lot of money. Believe me, this is the reason. Very few people know the history of what I am saying here.”
Giorgio Chinaglia, who’s reputation within the team and amongst the media was sullied by his handling of the team’s fiscal situation, alluded to this situation over the years but few took his remarks seriously.
“I am left very sad because many people that know this never spoke up about it,” Alberto said. “But I will. Whenever there is something to say, I’ll say it. I have no fear.
“The true history of the final days of football in the United States is what I have told you.”