FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The benefits from Pelé's decision to move to the United States nearly 40 years ago were still very much evident on Thursday afternoon.
The Brazilian icon sat in a room packed with dignitaries and media members to announce a partnership deal between Sovereign/Santander and the New England Revolution. He listened as Revolution head coach Jay Heaps and president Brian Bilello talked about the importance of his time with the New York Cosmos to the growth of American soccer.
As Pelé reflected on that fateful move to the New York Cosmos and the ripples still felt from it today, he noted how much the game has grown and improved since his arrival on these shores.
“In my time, we started to promote football and started with the game,” Pelé told MLSsoccer.com. “Cosmos had a lot because it grew quickly. We had some big names and we had a good team. But now, soccer in the United States is a reality because the level is a very good level. There are a lot of young players playing in Europe and outside of the United States.”
The development of the game here has allowed aspiring players like Heaps to transition from a young dreamer to a professional player to a coach. Heaps said his progression wouldn't have occurred if Pelé hadn't played in the NASL and visionaries like Philip Anschutz, Lamar Hunt and Robert Kraft hadn't invested the resources and the time necessary to create and cultivate MLS in its wake.
“Like Pelé was saying before, he started soccer here before [it was popular],” Heaps said. “He jumped it out and opened up the eyes of young kids like myself across [the country]. And then it's been people like the Kraft family here and Mr. Anschutz that took MLS and made it into something special. Now we're here talking about another partnership, another step forward of a league growing and an organization, all thanks to the pioneers who brought this game to our country.”
Several executives and players warrant a spot in that elite group, but Pelé still tends to rise above the pack in the public consciousness because of that decision to join the Cosmos. He ceded his place at the forefront of the American game long ago, but he still cherishes his role at the outset and his part in the growth of the sport here to this day.
“It has grown a lot,” Pelé said. “I feel glad to be a part of this.”