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Review: Once in a Lifetime (2006)

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I’ve always been a sucker for sports documentaries, Hoop Dreams to ESPN’s new 30 for 30 series. So when Once in a Lifetime showed up on Netflix, telling the “Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos”, the most successful North American soccer franchise, I had to watch.

The Cosmos were a part of the North American Soccer League, where they won 5 Championships over the span of the leagues 17 seasons. What the Cosmos were most known for, was bringing foreign superstars to American soil, where soccer was barely known, and rarely played. No player signed was bigger than Brazilian idol, Pele. Pele, along with Italian, Giorgio Chinaglia, and German Franz Beckenbaur brought a unheralded amount of attention to not only the Cosmos but to the NASL and the sport in general. Unfortunately, as you can see if you turn on Sports Center right now, soccer didn’t quite hold, and the Cosmos along with the NASL eventually folded.

For me, the entire first part of the story of the origin of the NASL is completely forgettable. Don’t know if it was lack of star power (AKA no-Pele), or the interviews were bland, but I grew tired real quick. The heart of the movie, is during the courting of Pele, and his ensuing career in America. As the crowds got bigger and bigger in New York, the quality of the movie got better and better. Unfortunately, due to the high cost of his demands Pele is not interviewed on the film. Which is a shame, because his input could really have made this film even better than it turned out to be.

I don’t know if the film’s ending was supposed to represent the abrupt folding of the league, but the ending came up really quick. Almost too fast to comprehend things. In short, the beginning and the end were somewhat forgettable, but the middle act is really good. Not only is it filled with rarely seen American Pele footage, it is also a good look back at America during that time. Another good aspect of the film is the presence of pain-in-the-butt Chinaglia. The affect he had on the front office, and other players had always been icy, and the interviews show that things haven’t changed much since then.

Rating: B

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