When this documentary about a New York City area soccer team that rose
to prominence in the 1970s had its North American premiere at the 2006
Tribeca Film Festival, I was not able to fit it into my schedule. For a film
about soccer, I managed to squeeze in
in a trilogy about a Mexican-born Southern Californian who is scouted by a
football team from England. But that was fiction,
is not.

Back in 1971, entertainment mogul Steve Ross, the head of Warner
Communications, teamed up with record executives Ahmet and Nehui Ertegun
to bring football -- what in America is known as "soccer" -- to the masses.         
The United States was the one nation where the sport was not popular,
except with various immigrant communities. Even though the North American
Soccer League (NASL) was founded in 1968, the sport remained secondary
to baseball and football, even trailing behind hockey. Ross and his cronies
sought to change all that and thus the birth of the New York Cosmopolitans
or the Cosmos for short.

Initial reaction was moribund until Ross signed Edson Arantes
Do Nascimento, better known as Pelé to a contract. Soon, the owners
were recruiting other "names" from around the world, like Carlos Alberto,
Franz Beckenbauer, and Giorgio Chinaglia. At the height of their success,
the Cosmos became sports superstars, hanging out at Studio 54 and filling
Giants Stadium, even setting records for attendance at soccer games.
As the film points out, the biggest misstep the moguls made was in
their negotiations for a television deal; that set back the sports acceptance
in the U.S. for more than a decade.

Co-directed by Paul Crowder and John Dower and narrated by Matt
ONCE IN A LIFETIME nicely captures the times and documents the
rise and fall of the franchise. There are often various sides to the stories
recounted in the film (one person even makes reference to
and it is a shame that Pelé refused to cooperate (bowing out because
he's working on a film of his own) and that Ross died in 1992. Still,
what the filmmakers have cobbled together from archival footage to
contemporary interviews serves as a terrific time capsule and a history
of soccer in the United States.

        Rating:                 B+
        MPAA Rating:        PG-13 for language and some nudity
        Running time:       97 mins.

                Viewed at the Park Avenue Screening Room
Once in a Lifetime:
The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos
©  2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.