By Charles Cuttone
After Pelé signed with the New York Cosmos in 1975, the North American Soccer League began to have some attraction for major international stars looking at the next stage of their careers.
Once the Cosmos began drawing huge crowds to Giants Stadium in 1977, the floodgate of players, along with team owners’ wallets, opened, as Franz Beckenbauer, Teofillo Cubillas, Gerd Mueller and Johan Cruyff made their way to America.
One of the first major stars to make the move to the U.S. played a very important role in soccer in what is said to be its motherland, indeed providing perhaps the most significant single moment in England's sporting history. Bobby Moore, captain of England's World Cup winning squad in 1966, and the man whose England record of 108 caps by a field player stood until David Beckham broke it in 2009, was one of the first international stars to follow Pelé to the U.S.
Moore was a legend in England, not just for captaining the country's World Cup winning squad, but also for his 544 appearances with West Ham United, a team he captained to the European Cup in 1965.
Moore joined the San Antonio Thunder on loan in 1975, becoming the first, but not the last, World Cup winning captain to play in the NASL. He was later joined by Beckenbauer (Germany 1974) and Carlos Alberto (Brazil 1970), as well as Cruyff (1974) and Ruud Krol (1978), who captained Holland in two appearances in the finals.
Moore and Pelé had faced each other many times across their careers, including an epic game in the 1970 World Cup that ended with the two stars exchanging jerseys and producing one of the most iconic photographic images in soccer history. But the Cosmos did not appear on the Thunder's regular season schedule. Therefore, as part of the agreement of the team moving into 22,500-seat Alamo Stadium, the team scheduled an exhibition game with the Cosmos. Thunder owner H. Ward Lay was able to pull off the deal in part because of his family business ties to Pelé. He was chairman of Pepsico, which at the time was one of the Brazilian star’s sponsors.
In order to play in the March 31 exhibition against the Cosmos, before his NASL team contract took effect, the Thunder secured a temporary loan of Moore from his club side Fulham to appear as a guest player. Negotiations to sign the defender had gone on for three months, and were finally culminated by Lay on a trip to England.
The Thunder won the game 1-0, in front of 14,800. Moore returned to England after the game and then rejoined the Thunder in time for the club's April 14 regular season opener against the St. Louis Stars.
Moore played in 24 games for the Thunder that season, scoring one goal. The highlight of that year, however, might well have been his last appearance on the international stage, not as a member of England's National Team, but as captain of Team America, a North American Soccer League selection put together to play against Italy, Brazil and England in the American Bicentennial Soccer Cup.
Moore returned to England and played another season with Fulham. He returned to the NASL in 1978 and spent the season with the Seattle Sounders, making seven appearances before finishing out his career in Denmark.
Though his career in the NASL was brief, he certainly one of the legendary players of the game who helped put professional soccer on the map in North America.
When Moore died at age 51 of cancer in 1993, Pelé said of him ""He was my friend as well as the greatest defender I ever played against. The world has lost one of its greatest football players and an honorable gentleman. "
Charles Cuttone is Executive Editor of Soccer News Net, whose web sites include www.bigapplesoccer.com, www.dcsoccernews.com, www.DCSoccerNews.com and www.SunshineSoccerNews.com. Follow him on twitter @ccsports
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