For decades the United States tried to have a legitimate and successful soccer league, but despite all the marketing and money invested, Americans seem to react rather coldly to what is still the most popular sport in the world. In the 70’s and early 80’s there was the first major attempt to create a strong league, and some of the best players in the world were hired to play in the U.S.; in spite of no longer being at the apex of their career, they still had names that carried a large bag of emotions to those fans that appreciated their game. Brazilian three-time world champion Pele was probably the most important among them. He indeed joined the New York Cosmos on what, on paper, was one of the strongest teams ever put together. German legend Franz Beckembauer was also part of that squad and that alone should give a perspective of the quality of the Cosmos.
Along side those two phenomenal players another one, a striker, moved to NY, straight from the Italian team of Rome, Lazio. That player was Giorgio Chinaglia. The coming to America of Giorgio Chinaglia is an important step in the “soccer” relationship between Italy and United States, because it truly symbolizes the seal and blessing of a former Italian champ moving to soccer. Many followed, but he remained the true pioneer and the man who left a mark in the mind of the Americans. Clearly, the NY Cosmos were a winning team and that helped to create the legend.
Around the same time, just a few years later, another major Italian icon decided to experience the American League, Roberto Bettega. Bettega was a better player than Chinaglia and had won many titles with his team Juventus; he was also a very highly ranked international player. After suffering a major injury and playing a last season with Juventus, Bettega opted for the Canadian team of the Toronto Blizzards, where he spent two years, enjoyed his life in North America and learned the American way of dealing with sports, an experience that a decade later would come very handy when called by Juventus to become the executive Vice President, initiating one of the most successful striking seasons Juventus ever had. Chinaglia too tried the executive path, both with Cosmos and Lazio, becoming simultaneously the president of both teams, but his experience landed the teams in bankruptcy, whereas Lazio initiated a dark era of being on Italian Serie B and Cosmos had to face disappearance, along with the entire American league.
This all happened in mid 80’s and only after the 1994 World Cup hosted by United States, America revamped soccer, creating a new league, with different teams from the past and trying to bank on the popularity that soccer had among young people. The results were scarce, as the level of the game remained very low, but the league survived and it still exists under the name of MLS, Major League Soccer.
MLS attracted some international players, including a few Italians, who came to America with a strong desire of playing. Among those, we should remember Giuseppe Galderisi, former Juventus and A.C. Milan star, Italian national striker, who played several seasons for Tampa Bay. At the same time Walter Zenga, one of the strongest goalkeepers of his time, joined the New England team, to eventually become also their coach. Last but not least was Roberto Donadoni, who surprisingly on the top of his game decided to leave A.C. Milan to play for New York. Donadoni was way better than the average players of the MLS and his game was still so good that he decided to return to Serie A to play again for A.C. Milan.
After that, the transfers from Italy stopped and the MLS really lost its appeal, if it ever had it, to the Italian players. It was only after the very well marketed transfer of David Beckam from Real Madrid to the Los Angeles Galaxy that the transfers started again. Since 2012 various Italian football players have moved to Northern America: Alessandro Nesta, Marco Di Vaio, Bernardo Corradi, Matteo Ferrari, Andrea Pisanu, Daniele Paponi, Marco Donadel, Paolo Tornaghi, Andrea Mancini and Antonio Nocerino. Andrea Pirlo moved to New York City FC in 2015; despite the advanced age for this sport, he is still regarded in Italy as one of the best and most loved players of the last years.