On August 28, 1977, 35,548 fans crammed Portland’s Civic Stadium (now Providence Park) for Soccer Bowl, the North American Soccer League’s championship match. The Timbers, who were in their third season and failed to make the playoffs, did not take the field. Instead, their rivals the Seattle Sounders squared off against the New York Cosmos. The main attraction: the Cosmos’ star, a Brazilian named Edson Arantes do Nascimento—or Pelé—three-time World Cup winner and arguably the greatest to ever play the Beautiful Game, in his final competitive match.
PREGAME Commentators Jon Miller and Paul Gardner break down the “Cinderella” Sounders and the “star-studded,” offensive-minded Cosmos. Pelé is the last to jog out onto the field, and the crowd goes wild. Miller gushes: “This is the only championship he has never won. And it is the last chance, the last time that the Black Pearl, the most fabled athlete in the history of sports, perhaps the most loved athlete in the history of sports throughout the world, the last chance ... as he plays for the money, one more time!”
FIRST HALF The Sounders start quick and bright, putting a header wide of goal within the first few minutes. The Cosmos counter with a chance just a minute later. From then on it’s back and forth. But in a boneheaded blunder, Seattle’s goalie drops the ball at his feet, allowing a Cosmos player to steal it and dribble it into the net. 1–0 Cosmos. Seattle scores not long after.
HALFTIME It’s pouring rain in August, and the score stands at 1–1. Cosmos coach Eddie Firmani tells the sideline reporter that he doesn’t think the Sounders can keep up the frantic pace of the first half. The commercial break includes recorded scenes from the NASL player awards banquet, held at the Portland Hilton earlier that week. The commissioner of the league calls Pelé “the man who gave us credibility.” (The NASL would fold in 1985.) The league’s MVP, legendary German Franz Beckenbauer (also on the field that day for the Cosmos) receives the keys to a brand-new Toyota Celica from a Portland dealership’s regional manager.
SECOND HALF The Sounders again come out fast and furious. But in the 77th minute, the dagger: a Cosmos cross from the left side of the field finds the head of forward Giorgio Chinaglia, who loops the ball into the corner of the goal. 2–1 Cosmos. Pelé, who didn’t score but has peppered the Sounders goal throughout the game, emphatically kicks the ball into the net twice, just to be sure. When the final whistle blows, Pelé rips off his shirt as he’s swamped by teammates and fans in the center of the field. (Did we mention the Sounders lost?)