Pele arrived on American soil in 1975 to give North American soccer life. David Beckham's arrival three decades later is meant to give it a lift.
The Brazilian soccer hero said on Wednesday that Beckham's highly anticipated debut later this summer with the Los Angeles Galaxy is not unlike his own.
There's the same fevered excitement, reflected in the number of people inquiring about tickets. Both international icons found their way to cities comfortable in the spotlight. And passionate fans and curious observers alike are eager to see what Beckham will bring to the Galaxy.
And to soccer in America.
"It's almost the same," said Pele, appearing untouched by age. "The game wasn't as popular (in the US) when we came. The first year was rough. The league was a new league."
After a brilliant international career, Pele joined the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League. His first game was played at Downing Stadium on New York City's Randall's Island, a mud pitch painted green.
His team was made up of players just out of college. Few had professional experience, much less time with international clubs.
"I remember when we played at San Jose, we lost 2-1," Pele recalled. "I said, 'My God, what am I going to do here?'"
Pele primed the pump, though, and many European stars soon came to the United States. Germany's Franz Beckenbauer and Brazilian Carlos Alberto turned the Cosmos into an internationally recognised club. The game took off, the Cosmos drawing a sellout crowd of nearly 78,000 to the new Giants Stadium in August 1977.