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Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos (3/10)

by Tony Medley

This is a film that could only have been made because it was about a New York team. In the first place, it is about soccer, a sport that people have been trying to promote to Americans for what seems like forever. Unsuccessfully.

This film starts out by selling the game. One person after another claims that what sets soccer apart from American sports is that there are ďno stops.Ē People demean Americans by saying that they donít have the attention span to stay with a game with ďno stops.Ē

Of course the fact that thereís less to the game of soccer than meets the eye has nothing to do with it. People run up and down a field trying to kick a ball into a net. Yeah, thatís real exciting and real hard to understand. But letís get back to the premise, that soccer is the only game with ďno stops.Ē What about ice hockey? Thereís a game with not many stops. Oh, sure, there is icing and there are penalty calls. But in soccer there are corner kicks and penalty kicks and out of bounds, too. There are probably as many ďstopsĒ in a soccer game as there are in an ice hockey game. I donít like either game, frankly. I think what makes ice hockey popular are the fights. The people who run the game recognize this by encouraging fights and not decreeing instant banishment for them. Soccer is just boring. Up and down; up and down. Very little scoring. Yawn!

So who would go to see a documentary about a soccer team located in Des Moines? Nobody outside of Des Moines. But New York? Hey, thatís different. This is The Big Apple! This is where everything happens! The world ends at the eastern edge of the Hudson River!

So here we have a documentary about the New York Cosmos, a soccer team that had a few years in the limelight because it was run by that ogre of a CEO, Steve Ross. This film elevates Steve Ross to the level of a god. Letís start with that. When I think of Steve Ross, the Chairman of the Board of Time Warner, I think of a man who fired 2,000 people and then gave himself a $200 million bonus with the money that could have paid the salaries of the 2,000 people he fired. Two years later he was dead from prostate cancer, so I guess there is some justice. But that didnít make the 2,000 people who paid for his bonus with their careers any happier. So if you go see this film and see all the accolades given to Ross, I hope you remember this.

Ross didnít like to lose, so he wanted to make the Cosmos a winner and he did so by sending his lawyer, Norman Sammick, flying all over the world to capture top talent, hiring first, Pele, the greatest soccer player in history. Pele didnít make them a winner, so he hired Georgio Chinglia, the top Italian soccer player. When that didnít work, he added Carlos Alberto, another top player, and the top German player, Franz Beckenbauer. That finally worked and the Cosmos became a champion, even though two years in a row they had to go to the final penalty kick in the final game to achieve that. If the Cosmos were so great, who were these guys who played them even? We never learn that. We never learn the name of even one player or coach on the other teams. Hey, this is about New York!

There was a lot of jealousy and infighting among the people who ran the Cosmos, which is not unusual when you know that Ross was involved. The interviews with the people who were fighting and their very frank comments on everyone else comprise the most interesting parts of this film.

One thing everyone had in common is that they all disliked Georgio Chinglia. He defends himself, but the attacks are coming from all sides, and he becomes overwhelmed by the quantity, if not the quality of the attacks. What finally happens to Georgio must have made everyone else happy. Nobody gives Chinglia credit, even in the movie, but the fact is that he apparently was the prime force behind the hiring of Coach Eddie Firmani and it was only after they hired Firmani that the Cosmos won.

Iím not a fan of soccer. Last year, however, I saw a soccer movie I really liked, ďThe Game of Their Lives,Ē about the 1950 United States World Cup team a ragtag group of Yanks who beat England, the best team in the world, in the second round. That held my interest. This one, at 97 minutes, had me really squirming.

This is a movie about a sport about which America could care less, a movie about a league that lasted less than a decade, and only survived that long because of the Cosmos. The film touches on the fact that soccer was a dismal failure on network TV, even though ABC gave it its best shot. One person is quoted as saying he fought and fought against the decision to have a network showcase. He thought they should only televise playoff games. He was right. Nobody watched. Nobody cared. That about sums up this movie. So who, outside of New York, would want to go see it?

March 30, 2006