Philadelphia Soccer History

Philly and the New York Cosmos

Featured image: Billy Barto of the Atoms prepares to pass to Jim Fryatt, who is covered by Werner Roth of the Cosmos. Image courtesy of

On Tuesday, June 24, the Philadelphia Union will host the New York Cosmos in the fifth round of the 2014 US Open Cup. Our look back at Philadelphia’s history with past Cosmos teams from New York, which began with the “intercity championship” series played between an All Philadelphia team and the New York Cosmopolitans between 1891 and 1894, concludes with a look at how the Philadelphia Atoms and Philadelphia Fury fared against the New York Cosmos in NASL play between 1973 and 1980.

Even after 19 seasons of success, Major League Soccer still stands in the shadow of the original North American Soccer League. Never mind that MLS has far outstripped the NASL in terms of stability, success, and Americans actually playing in the league–the NASL continues to be the “good old days” for many American soccer fans, particularly those treated to the exploits of aging–but still effective–stars like Johan Cruyff, George Best, Rodney Marsh, and Gerd Muller wearing American club kits.

And no one team represented the “glory” of the old NASL more than the New York Cosmos. Founded in 1970, the Cosmos set out to put American soccer on the map. International stars Pele, Giorgio Chinaglia, Franz Beckenbauer, Johan Neeskens, and Carlos Alberto all wore the Cosmos kit. On top of that, the Cosmos also tended to employ the top American stars, as well–Ricky Davis, Steve Moyers, Shep Messing…and a pair of local kids named Bob Rigby and Bobby Smith. Playing before massive crowds in Giants Stadium, the club rang up five NASL titles before dying an inglorious death at the hands of the megalomaniacal Chinaglia in 1985. Then it was all gone.

Still, even while MLS was up and running and growing, the Cosmos remained the most famous U.S. club side around the world. A movie, Once in a Lifetime, was even made about the team following the book of the same name.

And now they’re back.

In 2012, a new Cosmos joined the new NASL, and promptly won the Soccer Bowl after playing only half a season. Meet the new boss…same as the old boss.

And on Tuesday, the Cosmos return to Philadelphia for the first time since 1980 as the resurrected side faces the Philadelphia Union in the U.S. Open Cup.

In anticipation of what we hope will be a quick exit at the hands of our boys and blue, here’s a look at previous Cosmos visits to the City of Brotherly Love.


It’s June 6, 1973, and 9,168 fans file into the cavernous Veterans Stadium to watch their new team — the Philadelphia Atoms — take on the defending NASL champion Cosmos. The Atoms have a 3-1-3 record, while the New Yorkers come in undefeated at 2-0-3. At the end of the match both teams would leave with a point, with the Atoms’ Jim Fryatt and Cosmos’ Len Renery trading goals.

But a legend was born.

Andy Provan

Andy Provan and the Cosmos’ Len Renery. Image from the author’s collection.

Atoms forward Andy Provan came to exemplify much of what Philadelphians love in their athletes in that magical 1973 season. Nicknamed “The Flea” both because of his stature (5’5”, 140 pounds) and his leaping ability, Provan established his reputation with the fans in this match. At one point in the game, the New York Cosmos’ Randy Horton — all 6’2”, 195 pounds of him — leaped into the air and landed on Provan. Incensed, Provan jumped to his feet and began shaking his fist in the face of Horton, who was the 1972 NASL Most Valuable Player. Looking straight into Horton’s beard, Provan slapped the big Bermudian, starting a fight that saw both players ejected. The scrappy Provan immediately established himself as a fan favorite in the mold of the Flyers’ Bobby Clarke.

The incident also inspired the team, who followed the draw with the Cosmos with a three-game win streak . On July 4, the Cosmos again came to town. This time a crowd of 12,128 saw goals from Provan and Fryatt lift the Atoms over the visitors.

The Atoms went on to win the NASL title that year. The Cosmos qualified for the playoffs as a wild card, but lost to Dallas in the semifinal.


The defending champion Atoms started strong in 1974, going 5-0-1 over the first six games. One of those wins was on May 22, when a Jim Fryatt goal gave the Atoms a 1-0 win over the Cosmos before 10,117 at the Vet. Philadelphia went cold over the summer, though, and missed the playoffs. For their part, the Cosmos finished dead last in the Northern Division.

It should be mentioned that the Atoms played a few indoor soccer games that winter. One was a famous match against the Soviet Red Army at the Spectrum–for that game, the Atoms borrowed Cosmos star Jorge Siega, who scored in the exciting 6-3 loss. Another match was against the Cosmos, also at the Spectrum. On March 18, 1974, 6,314 fans saw the Atoms win 5-3 over a Cosmos team that included Shep Messing and Randy Horton.


The Cosmos were not really “the Cosmos” until June 10, 1975. On that day, the New York sided lured a 34-year old out of retirement to don the green and gold.

While not the first over-the-hill signing in NASL history, this one was a little different: the 34-year old was named Pele. It was a pretty big deal.

Bob Rigby of the Atoms soves under pressure from the Cosmos' Tibor Vigh while Atom's defender Bobby Smith covers. Courtesy of

Bob Rigby of the Atoms saves under pressure from the Cosmos’ Tibor Vigh while Atoms defender Bobby Smith covers. Image courtesy of

As fate would have it, the Cosmos had a game that evening, traveling down the New Jersey Turnpike to face the Atoms. 20,124 fans came to Veterans Stadium for the privilege of seeing Pele in street clothes!  They also got to see an exciting overtime win, with eventual NASL Rookie of the Year Chris Bahr netting a “golden goal” for the 1-0 win.


After the 1975 season, Atoms owner Tom McCloskey had had enough of pro soccer, and held a fire sale. Perennial Atoms all-stars Bob Rigby and Bobby Smith were sold to the Cosmos for $100,000. Eventually, the team itself was sold to a conglomerate of Mexican teams — including Club Guadalajara — and a nearly all-Mexican side took the field for the 1976 season.

Not surprisingly, this proto-Chivas USA was a dismal flop at the gate, and Los Atomos slowly died on the vine in the 1976 NASL season. On July 2, the team played before a reported 1,776 in Franklin Field — surely someone’s idea of a Bicentennial joke.

The next game on July 10 was a different matter. The Pele-led New York Cosmos came to town, and 25,311 people found their way to the ancient stadium to watch the great Brazilian weave his magic. He did not disappoint, netting the game-winner in a 2-1 result. Adding insult to injury, ex-Atom Rigby got the win in goal. The eminently forgettable Ricardo Marquez scored for Philadelphia.

Earlier in the season, however, Philadelphia had defeated the Cosmos in New York. As a result, the Atoms compiled a 4-2-2 record in four seasons against the New Yorkers.  But they would not get the chance to improve on that figure; the team folded at the end of the season.


After a one year hiatus, major pro soccer returned to Philadelphia as the NASL expanded by six teams after the 1977 season. The year had been phenomenally successful for the league — large crowds turned out to watch Pele, in his last season, lead the Cosmos to the league title.

The Fury's Tony Glavin covers the Cosmos' Wim Rijsbergen. Courtesy of

The Fury’s Tony Glavin covers the Cosmos’ Wim Rijsbergen. Image courtesy of

Even while featuring a number of ex-Atoms and bona fide English stars like Peter Osgood (Chelsea, Southampton) and Alan Ball (Southampton, Arsenal, Everton, Blackpool), the new Philadelphia Fury never really caught on with the city. However, the team drew a season-high 19,279 to Veterans Stadium on July 15 when the Cosmos came and leveled a 3-0 beat down on the locals. Giorgio Chinaglia, Steve Hunt, and Dennis Tueart scored.


While somewhat improved on the field, the Fury continued to be flops at the gate, drawing a flaccid 6,152 to the home opener and spiraling downward from there. On July 21, New York came to town and attracted only 17,352 to Veterans Stadium to witness another New York win. Dutch international Johan Neeskens scored the lone goal.


Following a surprisingly successful 1979 playoff run, the Fury hired ex-Cosmos coach Eddie Firmani. A three-time Soccer Bowl winner (1975, 1977, 1978), Firmani was expected to take the side to the next level. Instead, he embarked on a series of head-scratching personnel moves, the likes of which were not seen again until Peter Nowak’s winter of 2011, and the team limped out of the gate, opening the season at 1-7.

On July 16, only 15,213 fans bothered to see the Cosmos when they came to town. Those who came were pleasantly surprised, as Fran O’Brien scored a brace in a 2-0 win. Bob Rigby netted the clean sheet for the Fury.

After the season, the Fury went on to better things, moving to Montreal where they became the Manic, and eventually shocking the Cosmos in the first round of the 1983 NASL playoffs. But, while in Philadelphia, the Fury went a dismal 1-5-0 against the star-studded New Yorkers.


Tuesday begins a new chapter in the Cosmos-Philadelphia rivalry, as the magic that is the U.S. Open Cup allows the two teams from two different tiers to face off for the first time. Will the Union inherit the Atoms’ success, or be afflicted with the Fury’s failure?

Go to Chester on Tuesday to find out!


  1. Phil Naegely says:

    Thanks for the history lesson, Steve.

  2. Can’t wait. Can’t wait. Can’t wait.

  3. Nicely done, as always, Steve. I vividly recall going to those games in the Vet against the Cosmos. I was not yet able to drive, and took the subway to the games. The crowd on the subway itself amazed me. Guys carrying huge drums that I couldn’t figure out until I got into the Vet, and the pounding started. Unreal. The crowd might have been small, but it was the excitement of the people that were there that convinced me- if I am going to be a nut for this game, these seem like fun people with whom to be nuts.

  4. Great Memories! Saw Pele at Franklin Field hit the ball from the 30 yard mark and hit the upright(It was one of those squared off ones)The ball bounced straight back but he crushed the ball so hard that there was this incredible ringing sound that went all around the stadium.

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