Hello, I’m Werner Roth and I’m the answer to an interesting trivia question: Who was the captain of the New York Cosmos in 1977 when the star-studded club (Pelé, Beckenbauer, Chinaglia and Alberto) won the NASL title. To add a bit of spice, I played seven seasons for the club as its American center back. I now live in California and run Fútbol Academia, which takes a diverse, eclectic approach to player development.
Werner Roth had a inkling that he had found the route to a career after soccer. As the producer Freddy Fields was cobbling together an all-star roster of soccer players (Bobby Moore, Kaz Deyna) and actors (Max Von Sydow) for the 1981 film “Victory,” Roth, the fresh-faced former captain of the Cosmos, Fields offered him a choice of characters. Roth settled on a French player and quickly went about perfecting his French accent. Trop tôt.
“Pelé got me the gig. I was set for a meeting in Budapest with the director John Huston, but my bags stayed behind at Heathrow,” Roth said. “Pelé greets me in a blue tuxedo and all I have are flip-flops, jeans and a sweater. We get to the hotel and everyone is dressed to the nines, except me and Huston, who is wearing kind of Mexican wraparound.”
Roth’s dream was quickly edited, pre-production, by Huston who informed Roth that he would be perfect for the part of the captain of the Nazi team, Baumann. “He made a screen with his fingers around my face and said he was going to give me the climactic scene.”
Huston was true to his word and Roth was scripted to have his pivotal penalty kick stopped by the goalkeeper, one Sylvester Stallone, touching off a mass escape of the prisoners cum soccer team.
While the film has receded into movie history (the player roster is a Who’s Who of the game’s stars in those days), Roth’s place in NASL history remains a curious footnote among NASL stories.
After coming to the United States as a youngster, Roth played at Brooklyn Technical High School, attended Pratt Institute while playing in the German-American League and eventually earned 15 caps for the U.S. national team. He will be the first to tell you that landing on the Cosmos among a galaxy of stars was the true highlight.
“It was amazing … rooming with Franz, one of my idols, for three years. To befriend Pelé and experience the world with him. I made great friends in Bobby Smith and Shep Messing,” Roth said. “Those are the type of things you can’t make up. For me, they really were the most interesting and fun times, those seasons and tours and relationships.
“In a lot of ways were were ahead of our time. We forged a path that MLS has learned from, good and bad, and that rest of the football world learned from. The NASL was the first to number jerseys beyond No. 11, to put names on shirts, do clinics, marketing, PR, outreach all those things the rest of world took for granted. We were in a soccer vacuum in the U.S. that required new thinking and approaches. But it was an economic model that was unsustainable.
“In the end, the league was the definition of serendipity. All these variables came together to create a singular experience.”