England, Italy and Brazil—superb soccer teams all—breezed in for a Bicentennial party and even Team America had fun
June 06, 1976

The shots came screaming in, eight of them in the first 10 minutes alone, from Marinho, Zico, Roberto, Gil, Rivelino—from half of the canary-shirted heroes of Brazil's national soccer team, it seemed. They were fired with spectacular power and with all the accuracy you might expect from artillerymen pressed into service after two weeks' training. The booming shots put into severe hazard photographers squatting on the end-lines and spectators at Seattle's Kingdome unlucky enough to be seated above and behind the goal defended by Team America. Indeed, the only person not in danger of sudden decapitation was Eric Martin, who was keeping goal for the U.S.

Hardly elegant soccer, but the very futility of the barrage was lending some encouragement to the American side, which, for the second time in six days, had the formidable task of facing an authentic contender for soccer's World Cup. World Cup soccer has not historically been an American strong point, but in the name of the country's 200th birthday—and with a shrewd eye at further boosting soccer's appeal—the U.S. Soccer Federation had conceived the American Bicentennial Soccer Cup. Italy, England and Brazil were invited to send their powerful national teams to compete for the trophy in a round-robin six-city coast-to-coast tournament. The U.S. entry—Team America—was an amalgam of the best professionals from the North American Soccer League, most of them imported Europeans or Latin Americans, with a light seasoning of native U.S. players. And here Team America was, holding its own.

Brazil's shooting continued to be wildly inaccurate for much of this, its second game in the tour. But men like Rivelino and Marinho did not earn their towering status in the sport by putting balls 50 feet wide of the goal through their own inefficiency. What was happening on Friday night at the Kingdome was that they were being so harried by an entirely committed American defense that they were reduced to making wildly speculative shots from so far out that accuracy was impossible.

Team America Coach Ken Furphy had studied the video tape of Brazil's first game, against England at Los Angeles the previous weekend, with some care. Brazil had scored the game's single goal with only seconds of play left, but Furphy had spotted a weakness. "They play their two attacking wing forwards very wide," he said. "I'm going to put close man-to-man coverage on those wingers. My boys are very determined." The boys he meant were Bobby Smith, a New Jersey-born defenseman for the New York Cosmos, and Stewart Jump, a Tampa Bay Rowdies import from England. Between them, as center-backs, would be Bobby Moore, the ex-England World Cup captain now also with the Cosmos, and Mike England, a Welsh international player with the Seattle Sounders. Furphy was worried about this second pairing. The two had never played together before.

The same objection, however, applied on the grand scale to all of Team America. Furphy had had just three weeks in which to set up the side. NASL coaches had sent him recommendations and he had picked a squad of 20, but they had had only eight practices together before their first game with Italy at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., and it showed. Drastically. Before that first match Furphy learned that he would have to do without two former English stars; both George Best of the Los Angeles Aztecs and Rodney Marsh of the Rowdies had withdrawn for "personal reasons." This meant that though he had the Cosmos' Giorgio Chinaglia and Pelé up front, he was still short of strikers. John Kowalik, the Polish player from the Chicago Sting, was fast and courageous but small. Stewart Scullion, a Scot with Tampa, was a good dribbler who would take a defenseman on, but not a real penetrator. In midfield the situation was even more tricky: only Dave Clements, an ex-Irish international with the Cosmos, was a recognized player in the position; English-born Keith Eddy of the Cosmos, playing alongside him, was strictly a sweeper, a utility defenseman.

Team America had a long afternoon against Italy. In the first half Pelé was ineffective, having the ball taken off his toes by Midfielder Romeo Benetti, misplacing passes, failing to link with Chinaglia, hitting a free kick casually right into the Italian defensive wall. Constructive U.S. midfield play was nonexistent, the defense confused. Inevitably the Italian goals came. Four of them.

Four goals are hard to alibi, but Ken Furphy tried his best. "They were two poor goals in the first half," he said afterward, referring to a pair of bad lapses by Bobby Rigby, the U.S.-born goalie for the Cosmos. The first came when Rigby failed to gather a Fabio Capello shot cleanly and let in the rebound, the other when he seemed to rugby-tackle Paolino Pulici, who had no problem scoring on the subsequent penalty shot.

Rigby's game had been a nightmare. Six days later, pent up in a Seattle hotel room after learning that he would not be in goal against Brazil, he unburdened himself of some of his feelings about soccer in the U.S. "We never have any time together," he said. "They never give us any preparation. And we've had less background than anybody. I've played five months a year for the last three years. Didn't even play professional ball until I came out of college. What we need is as much exposure to good players and coaching as we can get. Our game really needs it." He was talking not only about himself but Bobby Smith, his teammate on the Cosmos. Smith was with him in his 11th-floor hotel room—or at least halfway in. Smith was perched in the open window, gazing down at the people below. "Hey, idiot," shouted Rigby, "come away from there."

Rigby was bitter, too, about the number of foreign importations into American clubs. "As long as people come over here they're going to be dictating to us," he said. "We have this rule that there's six American citizens on a side and that's the only protection we have. Push the number up? They say so, they say so. Every team has six American players—on the bench."

And indeed it was a foreign player, a Scot, Eric Martin, who took Rigby's place at the Kingdome against the Brazilians. Not many goalkeepers would have envied him the honor. The Brazil team is not quite the international force that it once was, and it would not be likely to score many victories on a European tour against the likes of West Germany. Nevertheless, against Furphy's foreign legion it had more than enough power in reserve to make a goalie miserable.

Eventually, Brazil's opening cannonade spent itself, and suddenly it was apparent that the Team America no-hopers, players shipped over close to the end of their careers from stadiums like Watford and Southampton, were scuffling for midfield balls like terriers, their defense blotting out the Brazilian wings and forcing Brazil into an uncharacteristic square passing game in which the ball was moved across the field instead of forward toward the goal. Forward is "o vala," into the valley, the path straight down the center of the field that leads to the goal mouth. Later, Pelé, who had refused to play against his native country, commented on this, and on the unnaturally slow tempo at which Brazil played. "They were too deliberate," he said, though refusing to admit that this was imposed upon them. Only Marinho, it seemed at this stage of the game, had the thrust and penetration expected so confidently of his side.

Meantime, Chinaglia was set up for raids by Kowalik and Scullion but too often the ball was sent over to him high, in the faith that his heading ability and his height would get him past the Brazilian defense. But Chinaglia, it appears, now lacks the most vital asset of a striking center-forward. While contributing little to building up attacks, he should be poised to pick up a pass in a scoring position, then turn fast toward the opposing goal for a shot before the defense can group around him. Right through the game, balls won painfully by players like Keith Eddy were lost as Chinaglia moved ponderously around with the final pass. And after only 15 minutes' play, eluding the defense for once and with the goal gaping before him with just the goalie to beat from close range, he shot wide.

That was the game's first turning point. Within minutes, the Brazilian Gil cut through into the valley and beat Martin with a close-range shot—a goal he had no chance to stop. Before and after, Martin played a fine and courageous game, diving at Lula's feet for the ball, making a magnificent one-handed save from Roberto.

With Gil's goal, that should have been that. The triumphal procession should have started. But Team America was playing far above its form against Brazil, and 10 minutes into the second half Furphy made a substitution that came close to making a historic night of it. A player unfamiliar to most of the crowd, Julie Veee, a naturalized American from Hungary who plays for the San Jose Earthquakes and sports more consecutive identical vowels than any soccer player in the world, came on for Kowalik and instantly transformed the game. Veee was unfamiliar even to Furphy, having been called up for the squad at the last moment, walking into the Kingdome in the midst of the morning's workout. "He's an unknown player," Furphy said. "He didn't appear in the trial, but because of injuries I had to call him up. I didn't know enough about him to commit him for the whole of the match...."

Veee cut through the Brazilian defense again and again and there was a period of 20 minutes when the Brazilians were outclassed and a tie, at least, could have been achieved. "He gave me everything he had," Furphy said after the game. "If only he could have been a little cooler at the death." In a brilliant run in which he beat three Brazilians, Veee had found himself out on the wing with no one in front of him. "If only he'd lifted his head, seen what was waiting for him and chipped in a pass," Furphy mourned. "We had two six-footers, England and Chinaglia, up there waiting for it. But he was carried away, the glory got to him and he tried a glory-goal shot from the by-line."

Mike England had come up from defense in a final all-or-nothing attempt for an equalizing goal, a legitimate gamble on Furphy's part. By then, such was the measure of Team America's pressure, the Brazilians were reduced to time-wasting, cross-passing tactics to hold their minimal lead. But the luck that helped Brazil beat England 1-0 in the closing seconds of the Los Angeles game held now. Through the gap left by Mike England came Gil again and suddenly, almost incredibly, it was 2-0 for Brazil.

Later, in the U.S. dressing room, as Ken Furphy stood silent, somebody bustled up with a statistics sheet enumerating shots, saves, corner kicks and so forth. Furphy waved it away. "The only statistic that counts," he said, "is 2-0."

That may be so. But until statistics can indicate such factors as courage and refusal to surrender, they will be inadequate to convey the truth of such games as this one.

PHOTOU.S. Goalie Rigby let in four Italian scores. PHOTOWhite-shirted England scrambles for the ball against Brazil in a match it lost 1-0 at Los Angeles. England later defeated World Cup rival Italy 3-2. PHOTOA merrie old at England-Italy In New York.